Framing the American Dream

Stéphane Couturier examines the transformation of desert into suburb

Stéphane Couturier, Fenetre, Eastlake Greens, San Diego, edition 4/8, 2001, dye coupler print, 130.81 x 107.95 x 2.54 cm (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Stéphane Couturier). Speakers: Elizabeth Gerber, LACMA and Dr. Steven Zucker

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Couturier, Fenetre, Eastlake Greens

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Key points

  • Stéphane Couturier’s Fenetre documents a housing development as it is being built in San Diego, California. Its unusual vantage point placed the viewer in an unfinished house, looking over finished homes, ongoing construction, the desert, and the hazy mountains beyond.
  • The visual device of framing the view through a window or window-like opening has a long history in art, but here the frame is also part of the subject of the photograph. We see raw building materials and unfinished surfaces of a project  in process. This stretches the development into our space.
  • Couturier typically photographs changing environments. Here, the subject is suburban growth. The unlikely rise of housing in this desert climate prompts us to question the sustainability  of the American dream of single-family homes, particularly as developments have expanded into environments that seem hostile to human life, or conversely, that might be damaged by human intrusion.

Go deeper

This photograph at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The artist’s website

Read more about the effect of development in the Southwestern United States

The effect of water rationing on San Diego

Explore the history of San Diego through primary sources

More to think about

This photograph shows humanity extending its reach into a desert environment which is dry, harsh, and often a metaphor for struggle. What are some of the reasons that this housing development might have been constructed in this space? What are some of the effects this development might have on the local environment? Think about a space in your own community and whether it would be suitable for new housing. What would you want developers to consider if they were planning construction in your town? What would be some of the benefits and some of the costs?

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.