Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Leslie Ragan, Visions of Suburbia
Today we visit suburbia through the eyes of illustrator Leslie Ragan. These images created to promote the Budd Company come from the 1940s and 1950s and record the remorseless spread of suburban housing and transport infrastructure that typified the era. New communities were rolled out across the landscape as the rising middle class population fled the inner cities for the fresh air and racial homogeneity of outer suburbia. The world of multi-occupied tenement buildings and artisan dwellings was left far behind in exchange for spacious individual plots of land graced with production line homes of generous proportions and a new universe of social conformity. For the relocated residents it was an opportunity to escape their ethnic European identities and focus on developing an all-American sense of identity. The Ragan vision is of a land of perpetual sunshine in which order and harmony prevails. There are no landfill sites, overhead transmission lines, industrial plants that might contaminate the dream. The air is clean and miraculously free of carbon monoxide emissions. A new and permanently prosperous future in which all material needs can be met indefinitely seemed tantalisingly close at hand. Like all Utopian enterprises it was essential that the entire community, without exception, shared identical views on religion, politics, morality and the structure of society. This fortress of conformity was impossible to sustain and its unravelling provided the raw material for more than a generation of American novelists and screenwriters.