fence

Jay Em No. 10

Jay Em No. 10

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.

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Window, St. Elmo

Window, St. Elmo

Window, St. Elmo

I’ve always found the absence of right angles in ghost towns interesting; it speaks to the idea that such towns were transient, almost ethereal in their existences, as if the residents knew how quickly the boom would bust.

St. Elmo is one of these towns, and it’s a place I’ve been visiting since I was two. I have family in the area, so it was customary that we took a 30-minute jaunt into Elmo when we could just to enjoy the cool air at 10,000 feet and soak up the history of the Denver & South Park railroad.The town enjoys a boom again now as off-road motorcycles and ATVs pollute the quiet trails above town with unmuffled cries of “blaaaat” and dust that never settles.

Yet the buildings remain, and near the Home Comfort hotel, a white picket fence, trim and lace curtains evoke a time when the steam whistle of a train engine was not just the sound of industry, but of hope and future.

Jay Em No. 7

Jay Em No. 7

Jay Em No. 7

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.

The PlainSky, Nebraskans Show: The Complete Works No. 13

Desolation Gate: PlainSky Nebraskans No. 13, 24" x 16" on Red River Arctic Polar Luster

Desolation Gate: PlainSky Nebraskans No. 13, 24″ x 16″ on Red River Arctic Polar Luster

Another of the more eerie images in the PlainSky show, Desolation Gate is (among other things) a statement of foreboding and loss as it sits on the doorstep of northwest Nebraska.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Diner Sign, Harrison

Diner Sign, Harrison

Diner Sign, Harrison

I have been enamored with this collection of buildings for a considerable amount of time, especially for its potential as part of my PlainSky, Nebraskans, project. The repetition of the arcs in the buildings, the staccato lines fence, and vanishing point created by the sign all connected to make an image that exudes the essence of the landscape in western Nebraska, while the desolation itself is a warning for the future of the people of this area.

Wind Whipping A Fence, Harrison

Wind Whipping a Fence, Harrison

Wind Whipping a Fence, Harrison

One element crucial to the “PlainSky, Nebraskans” project is wind and how it defines the colors, textures and landscapes of western Nebraska.  This Buick, fence and group of outbuildings have sat dormant in the outskirts of Harrison for years, and on a January morning, the unrelenting gale that is a year-round, uncounted resident of the town tore at the fence and prairie grass enveloping it.