Modern Photography and the American Dream

As a prolific photographer and propagandist for the emerging "lifestyle" magazines of his day, Maynard L. Parker (1900–1976) was a pioneer in documenting residential spaces and landscapes of postwar America. His extensively published, sun-kissed brand of photography made him a significant contributor to domestic design culture from the 1940s into the 1960s.

Parker's lens revealed the homes and lifestyles of affluent Americans and celebrities, including Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Bing Crosby, as well as the built works of Frank Lloyd Wright. His work was commercial but now serves as a fascinating historical document, showing what used to be considered an alluring template for living in the "new" consumer age.

This book is the first monograph to consider Parker and his work. The book's well-illustrated essays show Parker's photography against the backdrop of an unprecedented demographic shift, the Cold War, and a suburban society increasingly fixated on consumption.

While some of the pictures feel remarkably dated, staged and campy, these photographs were earnestly inspirational at the time they were made. Parker was working during the hey-day of the picture magazine. Magazines like The House Beautiful went out to hundreds of thousands of homes and fueled a generation's desire for consumerism, privacy and convenience. The interiors that Parker's images showed were practically impossible to recreate in actuality (our eyes do not see the world in Kodachrome), but they fueled an aspirational movement regardless.

Photography has been and still works as a tireless instigator for our desires. The pictures from a contemporary travel magazine or an advertisement for liquor are as propagandistic as any of Parker's work. Meanwhile, the filters of Instagram transform how our lives appear to ourselves and others, creating the Parker-like illusion of a high-contrast, garishly vibrant world. Indeed, the more we look at these aged pictures, the more familiar they become. 

—Alexander Strecker

Maynard L. Parker: Modern Photography and the American Dream 
Publisher: Yale University Press
Hardcover: 288 pages