I’m in a town library with wi-fi for the moment (as opposed to the cell-phone-service-free location I’m usually in), so I thought I’d take time to post an image from my time in the field thus far. Two days ago, a prolific quantity of smoke blew into the area from the huge West Fork fire near Wolf Creek Pass and all but obscured the 14,000 foot surrounding peaks. But as the sun set, the smoke ignited in a terrifying but stunning show of nature’s color.
Well, I’m off photographing in southern Colorado won’t return until July 14. So in the meantime, I’m posting this image from my shoot at the (very) rural Eddyville rodeo from last week.
It was a grand, dirty evening due to the dust; when the light would pass through it, stunning shots happened. It also took me three hours to clean my gear the next day.
As the bronc teams set their mounts and prepared to perform, the sun dropped low on the horizon and the dust mingled with the latent clouds remaining after a strong storm had passed just to the south. The rider’s hand on his hip left a small space for the sun to illuminate the hanging particles of dust hanging in the air, and the light–oh, the light–on his hat and the shadow of his head were simply intoxicating.
My friend Jane Bell at Texas Tech is a fan of dogs, and the day after I made this image, I sent her a note with the image attached. I couldn’t resist the image opportunity, what with the cowboy and his rough-and-tumble boots, the grass-and-dirt texture of the rodeo arena, the miniature canine so daintily attached to the cowhand with a pet-store retractable leash and a paw raised in preparation for motion. Irony incarnate, say I.
Some people just love trees, and I can’t blame them. So do I, and a number of my favorite images feature those actors so prominent in the poetry of Frost. But I’m also a child of the Great Plains, of the West, and sometimes other urges beckon.
And the treeless landscape whispers its own poem in my ear.
I have been asked myriad times why I tend to emphasize a sense of loneliness and isolation in many of my photographs, and I’ve pondered an appropriate answer for years.
In a previous post, I wrote how so many photographers admit the scene or location or emotion is speaking through them, but that as the artist, such symbiosis happens unwittingly. Just such an occasion here, I found this decaying homestead atop a lonely treeless hill in windswept eastern Wyoming during a spring squall, and before I knew it, I was making an image.
Lucky number seven. I thought it serendipitous that this image met such a number, considering its spiritual ancestry in the style of Paul Strand; while I never intended it to be such, the influences of one’s past often bubble up in the images of the present. Line, tone, shape and texture all held me captive in this spot for some time as I worked to visually tell a tale of a town.
My wife asked me once why I almost always titled images in only three ways: location, number, or untitled. It was a question I’d never confronted in terms of justification; why didn’t I use cool names or commentary as a title for an image?
I had to think for a while.
I eventually surmised it came down to feelings. Somehow, the locations and images were telling me these were the proper names, the ways in which they’d like to considered. Cindy Sherman once wrote, “The work was so intuitive for me, I didn’t know where it was coming from.” Sam Abell notes the images are smarter than we are–they may take years to come to life. If so many great photographers acknowledge the image has its own voice, that is only using me to vocalize that essence, than who am I to place judgment upon those ideas through the imposition of a frivolous title?
Thus, Jay Em No. 6.
It’s been nearly a year since I published a new image from one of my favorite lost towns of the West, Jay Em. I try to make it back at least once or twice each year, because I always find new images waiting for me in the recesses of its silent buildings. I’m going back again in July of this year, but in late May I made my first visit of 2013, and made a new set of images to tide me over for a few months. This is my favorite.
I have a love affair with Wyoming. After all, It’s less than a five hour drive from my front door to the wide open spaces of the Wyoming High Plains, and I’ve been spending copious amounts of time there since before I could walk.
Lost Springs was one place I’d missed, however.
I think it’s inevitable that faith is an indispensable factor in the equation of ranching. After all, your life is tied to myriad forces out of your control: weather, disease, markets and luck. Trust and faith become more than a trivial matter, for you are left no choice but to admit the land and nature are larger than you.
Moreover, you’re reminded every morning and evening (on the back of a horse, if you’re really lucky) that the West is a magical place as the giant sun rises and sets amidst fiery-hued clouds on the horizon of one of the most breathtaking places on Earth, the American High Plains. One sunrise, the sunbeams breaking through the dark clouds onto a wide-sweeping vista, and you’re hooked.
Faith? Indeed. But a celebration of majesty as well.