Nadine Boughton’s color-drenched, surreal photo-collages contrast the sterility of the modern American home with the explosive, often feral natural world to present unique portraits of mid-twentieth-century anxiety. The majority of the work in this portfolio is drawn from Boughton’s projectTrue Adventures in Better Homes, which juxtaposes images from men’s adventure magazines such asTrue Adventures and Real Adventures with images from issues of Better Homes and Gardens from the 1950s and ’60s; the other project represented here, The Pleasures of Modern Living (see Garden Shed,One Giant Step, and Red Hots), draws on a wider variety of vintage magazines and materials from that same era. Throughout, Boughton scans and digitally composes her works with the intention of portraying, as she says, “narratives from the collective psyche” and “the darkness beneath the pleasures of modern living.”*
In a 2012 interview with Feature Shoot, Boughton remarked that her collages are “a satire on the burgeoning culture of materialism, advertising, [and] the polarity of gender roles,” and that the images she works with “come from the period of the Cold War and I am speaking to . . . the fear and anxiety that [were] present in that time.” Boughton’s images purposefully clash well-kept domestic spaces with antagonistic exteriors to reveal how fear of the other and of cultural change were central concerns in the collective psyche of the 1950s and ’60s: The distant threat of a mushroom cloud–shaped storm set against a isolated backyard scene in Garden Shed holds the threat of a Cold War narrative, and inPeril, a woman in a torn dress runs terrified into a pristine living room, under attack by several bared-fangs baboons: the wild outdoors, full of malevolent creatures, has driven her screaming into the clean lines of home—yet the baboons still cling to her, insistent and impossible to ignore. And Rugged Menpresents a distressed man in a yellow raincoat carrying a wilderness-ravaged woman toward their reflection in a bathroom mirror, the pair having escaped a storm and perhaps more only to enter a crab-infested home. The fantasy of the home as a place safe from the outside world has been shattered, forcing the heroic male in the collage to confront his own image as a threatened archetype, which in turn presents the same confrontation to the “hero” lurking in the man who sees the collage.
Dark as Boughton’s work may be, it is not without its humor. Long on camp, her vivid portrayals of gender stereotypes also illuminate the often-ridiculous storybook essentialism present in mid-century American narratives. In Red Hots, two swashbuckling cowboys in the background give each other menacing looks as a damsel in the foreground looks on in distress, curled within a plate of franks and fries. Food is brought into question as an object of desire and comfort, and the hero archetype is again brought under scrutiny—are these men so over-occupied with conflict that they’ve lost the ability to protect, having instead become a threat?
Boughton’s work is also potent in the context of our current age of state surveillance and reactionary politics, where the outside world continually encroaches on the idea of a private, bounded home-life. With drones overhead, spyware in our computers, and people still going off to battle, we are living within an updated version of the Cold War.