Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

A Wide-Angle Lens on the Midcentury American Home

Jennifer A. Watts, left, edited a book on Maynard L. Parker, a photographer of midcentury homes.

The gate of the white picket fence on the cover of the new book “Maynard L. Parker: Modern Photography and the American Dream” (Yale, $65) is ajar, inviting you down a flagstone path. Blue and yellow director’s chairs are set out around a shaded table. The lady of the house hovers at your side; she’s just cut a few flowers.

These elements — casual welcome, outdoor living, brilliant color — were all hallmarks of the midcentury California photographer Maynard L. Parker’s signature style. Mr. Parker, who began his career shooting Hollywood interiors and designer jewels, translated his gift for creating a glamorous narrative into a 30-year career as a photographer of midcentury homes, primarily for House Beautiful. His modern Los Angeles was a very different place from that of his contemporary, Julius Shulman: the houses were smaller and filled with more stuff, the gardens were child-friendly, and the aesthetic, as described by Elizabeth Gordon, editor of House Beautiful from 1941 to 1964, could be labeled “The Station Wagon Way of Life.”

Jennifer A. Watts, photography curator at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, edited the book and oversees the Huntington’s 58,000-image Parker archive. She spoke to a reporter last week by phone from San Marino, Calif.