Gated Communities

Jesse Meadows visits that most mysterious of suburban phenomena; the gated compound. Photos by Julie Vola


Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes all the same

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one

And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky

And they all look just the same


This song runs through my mind every time I look at these photos. When folk singer Malvina Reynolds wrote it in 1962, she was commenting on the rise of suburbia and middle-class America that she saw through the car window on a road trip through Southern California. And now, over 50 years later on the other side of the world, it’s relevant again in Southeast Asia.


As someone who grew up in these kinds of developments in the West, stepping foot in one here is a kind of reverse culture shock. It’s familiar to me, but not here. It seems out of place in the beautifully-organised chaos I’ve come to know as Hanoi. Where are the banh mi carts, and the bricks etched with history, and the alleyways like mazes? These streets are wide, and these houses all look just the same. Perhaps we’ve tripped and fallen into an alternate reality.


A tilt-shift lens visually recreates this sensation. It allows the photographer to physically shift the lens across the static camera body, changing the focus and perspective in uncanny ways. The result is a dreamlike scene that shifts the fabric of reality, houses stretching awkwardly away, blurriness creeping in unevenly across the images.


Here’s a look through the white picket fence, at the little boxes of your fever dreams.

More in this category: « The ‘Burbs Above

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