Return to Sender–Heartwell, Nebr.
Each rural post office has a unique character, and Heartwell’s is indeed unique. The village’s post office is little more than a postage stamp in size, and in fact, to buy stamps, one steps into the postmaster’s office.
It is a reminder of days past, before global trauma disrupted our trust for one another. When the post was a connection to the world, rather than a symbol of one passing us by.
Return to Sender–Trumbull, Nebr
My next solo exhibition is opening in April 2014, and is titled “Return to Sender: The Endangered Rural Post Office.” It’s more artistic than my previous documentary work, but how is a secret until the show opens. Suffice it to say the 30 images that will compose the show are far deeper than any of the attendees can possibly realize, and each will be an edition of only 4.
The project is about the endangered rural post office, the heart of small town America, and the loss of which often signals the death of a town. But how do these post offices fit in a digital world of mobile e-mail, Facebook, and blanketed cell coverage? They are symbols of a passing world, much like the small towns they inhabit. As much of the Great Plains population wanes, the dying post office emerges as the pivotal icon of the changing century.
Hat and Hands
I’ve been fascinated with the meanings of textures for as long as I can remember. What is it to fill a frame with brick? Is it brutality, urbanist, cold, stalwart? So many textures render subtexts we scarcely recognize, but still understand.
They are subtle reminders of the lives we live, or those we observe.
So on a hot and humid summer night, the textures of a Resistol straw hat in the hands of a cowboy who was riding in bronc events at a rodeo caught my eye and my lens. He toyed nervously with the brim, flexing it, twisting it, and after watching for a few moments, I made this photograph, a treatise on the textures of the West.
Boot No. 9
We take the everyday elements in life in a daze, most often lost in our own thoughts, wandering through the world oblivious to the poetry around us. I encourage my students to pay closer attention to their surroundings, to put aside their digital lives and thought-to-be-hectic schedules for a few moments a few times each day, to sit and compose with the ordinary.
I tried to do just that with my boot series, and this is the ninth among those images.
Buffalo Bill Statue, Oakley
I found the temptation of setting the larger-than-life legend of the West against a backdrop of ambiguity too alluring to say no, and took advantage of the chance to make a statement about how the reality of the West is mixed with the mythical.
Sandhills Track, Sheridan County
I’ve always been fascinated with ideas espoused by the photographic movement of The New Topographers, including the work of Robert Adams, but also “Hand of Man” photographer David Plowden. Once one understands the complete loss of the natural landscape–yes, folks, it’s gone–it is moving to contemplate the ways in which our own interaction with the earth has been a symbiotic, destructive relationship.
Billboard, San Luis Valley
What is the role of water in the West? That is beyond the scope of a simple blog post and image, and more the subject of innumerable books, articles and documentaries that still have failed to capture completely a vastly complex topic. But I’ve thought about water for a long time, and the Keystone XL Pipeline problem in Nebraska, as it tried to cross over one of the West’s great water reserves, spurred me to begin looking in earnest for images that expressed this conflict.
This is my favorite. It captures so many pieces of the conflict in interesting ways, and it’s an image of which I am very, very proud. Seemingly simple, it masks a complicated and faceted composition that took me more than 72 hours to create.
Jay Em No. 10
I’ve spent a lot of time in Jay Em, Wyoming, and will continue to. My next project depends on it, in fact.
Named Jay Em for the first two initials of the founder of the ranch that became the town, James Moore, Lake Harris launched the community in the early 20th century (see Ghost Towns.net for a bit more on the town’s history, and the nomination form for its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places). It was the last watering hole until travelers reached Lusk, 35 miles to the north through the vast, treeless High Plains of eastern Wyoming, but soon the growth of the automobile as the transportation method of choice was the proverbial “bullet in the temple” of the town–no need for watering holes. There are perhaps ten families still living in town, but it’s a long way to go for groceries, let alone anything else of necessity (even distant Lusk now struggles to survive). Oh, and the wind–the fierce Wyoming wind–ravages the town on a constant basis. It’s an assault of both population loss and the elements themselves.
But it’s beautiful, as is its surrounding landscape, and that is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to the town and its plight. There will be more to come from Jay Em in my portfolio. Be sure of it.
I’m promoting the blog of one of my senior advisees at Hastings College, who is both a stellar student and fun young adult. Kit is also currently in Ireland as one of Hastings College’s Fellows for 2014, and she’s working for Salmon Publishing as an intern. Read all about it–it’s a nice narrative from a good student who’s really going places!
Publishing Kit in Ireland >
Harvest in Black and White
Ehpem (over at burntembers blog) had some very nice things to say about the color version of this image that I posted a couple of days ago, but also noted that it “demanding conversion” to black and white. As I said in the ensuing conversation, it’s evidence that even when I’m shooting in color, I’m seeing in black and white.
Well noted, Ehpem.