Suburban Splendour emerged from encounters observed whilst driving, from focused observation of daily life, from eavesdropping and casual conversation, but more often than not the photographs were inspired by literature and cinema. Films by Paul Thomas Anderson and Ray Lawrence contributed, as did writing by Richard Ford and the lyrics of Paul Kelly. But the background soundtrack which remained constant was the voice of the American short story writer Raymond Carver. Carver’s vision depicts ordinary blue collar people living lives of quiet desperation, people who are feeling their way in the dark with the hope that maybe next week things will get better.
Reading his work, now more than twenty years after his death, it seems to me that his writing taps into a sense of contemporary isolation that reflects the anomie, uncertainties and vulnerabilities of existing in the modern world, and on a planet which contemplates an undecided environmental future.
Like Carver’s stories and Hopper’s paintings, these images depict everyday struggle and ordinary tragedy. They touch upon areas of experience simmering just below the surface, and explore the notion that the lives of others, no matter how close we are to them, will always remain fundamentally unknowable to us.
As we get older, the experience of life can be an experience of loss. We look back on our lives and consider missed opportunities, and contemplate the uneasy feeling that we have turned out to be someone other than who we had previously imagined.
The compressed cinematic frames of Suburban Splendour try to articulate something of the soft lament that Carver alludes to. These characters are troubled, but not irretrievably lost; they carry a dignified endurance and a sense of bruised optimism. These people are survivors. They have a desire, as we all do, to be transported from darkness into light.
Graham Miller 2007