Photographing The Peculiar Borders We Make In The Name Of Property And Privacy

In Property Line artist Roberta Neidigh looks at the strangely beautiful divisions that fences create in neighborhoods as we try to wall ourselves off from each other.

While taking walks through her neighborhood in Sacramento, California, photographer Roberta Neidigh started to pay specific attention to the divisions between the suburban yards. These were places where carefully manicured lawns met crumbling driveways, and fences met fences in unexpected ways. These observations turned into the inspiration for her series of photos called Property Line.


“I’d driven by many of these homes near my own for years, not really seeing them and their borders until I started exploring on foot,” Neidigh says. “I discovered that we tend to edit out the property line when we observe suburban landscapes. We’re focused on our own space, mostly ignoring the place it intersects with another. Because of this, I’ve found great delight in discovering what goes mostly unseen despite being in plain sight.”

Neidigh started on the streets near her home, and then explored other suburbs nearby. “Soon I began scoping out other neighborhoods by car, and if I found an interesting pattern of expression or a sense of inherited design in the choice of house color or method of grooming the landscape, I would park and walk the streets. That’s when the compositions started to reveal themselves.”

Different neighborhoods, she says, each had their own unspoken design standards. But no matter where she was, and how much time it seemed had gone into grooming perfect-looking yards, people seemed to miss the connection to the yard next door. “We don’t really scrutinize the property line, and by giving it less consideration, we allow for unexpected–and often humorous–interactions to take place,” Nedigh said.

“A friend recently told me she couldn’t wait to see what her own property line looked like after I described my project and she couldn’t visualize how her yard looked at its edge,” Nedigh continued. “We laughed so hard when she later described what she saw as she drove up to her house. She was surprised–and almost horrified–to see two separate walls side-by-side, two completely different heights, materials, and colors.”

Now, she notices property lines wherever she goes, and wonders about the residents inside. “I’m interested in the tension that is created once a line is drawn. How is it true that ‘Good fences make good neighbors?’”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.