Spying into other people’s lives

by Kitty Drake in December 2019
Art & design

Scenic Views is an interiors magazine that begins by spying inside other people’s houses. The pictures are little-known, from a 1977 series of Baltimore interiors by Arnold Kramer. They are black and white, stark and almost painfully intimate: a comb is arranged carefully on a dressing table, next to a box of hair remover; an ornamental clown sits on a sideboard; net curtains bunch lusciously at a window, like pig-tails.

“It is rare to see the inside of a stranger’s home without them also being present in the photograph”, writes Louise Benson in the accompanying essay. The neatness of these rooms, particularly, is moving. You feel the absent-presence of the person who tidied them — their dreams for the space, or for who they might become in this space — press themselves into the frame.

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When people are featured in this magazine, they are painted, not photographed. Beryl Cook’s ‘Drinkies’, of women out on the razz, are included here partly because of their attention to soft furnishings: “the frilled lampshade or the exact texture of the carpet”. One particularly brilliant portrait shows a woman, sitting back on her armchair, having a fag. It captures something private — like everything in this magazine — something private that you do amongst all your soft furnishings, alone.

What makes Scenic Views brilliant is its treatment of rooms as still lives — or peep-holes into other lives. The penultimate series is of empty hotels, collated from booking sites around the world. Looking at all the frilly twin-sets, and shabby buffet tables, and the humanless jacuzzis, makes you think of alternate universes. This is a magazine that makes you feel nostalgic for lives you’ve never had.

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