Photographing Americans in Their Bedrooms

Barbara Peacock

Photos by Barbara Peacock

Text by Maria Dias 


You can learn a lot from someone's bedroom. Just ask the woman who photographs them. 

"[These are] whole stories in a single poignant moment," said photographer Barbara Peacock, of her project, "American Bedroom," documenting her subjects' most intimate spaces. "'American Bedroom' is a cultural study and an anthropological dig to get the clues of exactly who we are as individuals and as a nation, all told within the frame of a dwelling.

"I want to convey that within this careful and respectful glimpse of another’s life there lies a curiosity that we have about each other and the way we live our lives, no matter how disparate."

Barbara peacock
"My Mom says I should give some of my dolls away." 

The idea came to her one early morning, naturally, on her way back into bed. 

"I stopped in my tracks and had to giggle," she said. "My husband was sprawled out on the bed with his elaborate snore mask, his bare middle-aged belly, polka dotted underwear and black socks, left on from the evening's night out. I stood there a moment and imagined how I might appear next to him, with my eye mask, tank top and signature funky socks. I chuckled, and as I got back into bed I started thinking about people in their private dwellings and what can be said about us, as a people, in a single frame."

'"There are days I don't leave my room." 

So Barbara, whose editorial work has appeared in such publications as People and Newsweek, got to work.


Some of her subjects are people she knows, and by extension, their families or friends, she said. But she also has found subjects through social media or through leaving behind a small postcard in diners or coffee shops. 

"We have been off the grid for 20 years." 

Once she has found her subject, her approach combines the art of photography and painting, she said. Each room and subject have a degree of the unknown, and in many cases, she is meeting the subject and seeing the room for the first time when she makes the photograph. 

"It is important for the authenticity of the project that I show the true nature of my subject," Peacock said. "Each scenario presents opportunities to get to the core of the individual." 

"I am so quite in the morning when I wake up so I don't disturb her, then I remember, she is gone."

If there are items in their room that are telling and could be useful in the frame, she moves them in. If the subjects clothing or removal of clothing shows their character more, they discuss this and make those changes. 

"I continue to help with the placement and gesture of their bodies for the best composition, and to utilize the existing quality of light," she said. "From that point, I await for that magical moment. In one case it was a cat that suddenly jumped up on the bed; in another case, I waited an hour saying nothing while a family moved about their bed until a strong moment appeared. In another case, it could simply be the tilt of a head, or the look in the eyes. Once everything is set I try to be a fly on the wall and wait for a poignant moment."

"I live in New Hampshire where the motto is 'Live Free or Die. That's pretty much it." 

Peacock, who is a 2017 Getty Images Editorial Grant recipient, plans to use the funding to continue her project across the United States.

"I am very interested in meeting all types of people, and I enjoy the conversations that ensue and the aura of energy that is created," she said. "Most often it is after the shoot that the most is revealed, so I am learning to take the time. I am learning that there are a lot of lonely people... [and] that people have stories they want to share, if someone will listen. I am learning that people are fragile and conversely very strong. 

"I am learning that being photographed can be an important moment in someone’s life. I am learning to listen."



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