The Streets series by photographer Leigh Merrill perfectly captures the often unexpectedly suburban architecture of San Francisco, a city that—away from its famed Victorian houses and its picturesque skyline—can be relentlessly dull. The featureless white skies of that peninsular metropolis and the anemic pastels of its painted stucco facades always seem strangely out of synch with the city’s otherwise vibrant human atmosphere.
“Upon moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2007,” the artist writes, “I began looking at the complexity of its urban environment. The Bay Area presents a unique blend of residential living that sits between urban and suburban in a way that never quite reconciles one with the other.”
Merrill’s photos, on the other hand, are inventions.
In investigating this landscape I photographed thousands of homes throughout the area and then digitally assembled these images together to create new and illogical structures and streets. At first these images look plausible, however, closer inspection reveals their fabrication. The reconstructed homes and neighborhoods appear skewed, revealing their underlying and sometimes unconscious intentions. These constructs highlight the ways in which our built environments pull from a variety of different architectural and landscape styles and reflect cultural ideas of beauty and perfection. In working with the Bay Area as a site for investigation, I explore what our built environments tell us about our own individual desires as well as our collective culture and ideals.
Similar to the work of Filip Dujardin, Merrill’s images assemble believable structures just up to the limit of surreality. Weird topiaries and stained concretes reappear image to image and impossible vanishing points force odd symmetries on the opposing edges of single compositions.
San Francisco seems surprisingly well-represented by this technique, I have to say, and Merrill’s digital skills are incredible. And, lest her approach somehow seem possible only within the repetitive suburban architecture of outer San Francisco, Merrill has embarked upon a similar project featuring the low-slung buildings and storefronts of north Texas with equally interesting results.
The idea of the imaginary view brings to mind the distortionary engraving techniques of Piranesi, who similarly fabricated exaggerated, impossible, and critical views of the city—in his case, Rome. Only, in this case, it’s as if Piranesi had moved to the Sunset District or the Outer Richmond of San Francisco, that supposedly beautiful city, with a high-res camera and a copy of Creative Suite.
Meanwhile, Merrill’s work is available in a new print from Small Batch Editions. Small Batch Editions “is dedicated to bringing together a carefully curated selection of photographs from around the world, and making them available for a wider audience. To this end, we proudly publish limited edition prints, working closely alongside each artist to ensure the highest standards of quality.”
Check out their back catalog—and more of Leigh Merrill’s work—when you get a chance.
(Thanks to Melissa Stafford of Small Batch Editions for the tip).