Well, my PhD work is done for the semester, and I’ve finished grading all my courses. Translation? I can resume my photography. It’ll be spotty yet for a while, since I need some time to build a new body of work around a theme or two, but I’m back in the saddle. Just to hold everyone over, here’s a new piece from 2013 featuring one of my muses: St. Elmo.
Even ghosts need homes, don’t they? Disconcerting as it may be in a windblown, nearly deserted western town, this miniature house and its strange surroundings have drawn me back on several occasions as I try to understand the place they occupy in the world.
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.
This is an image about encroachment and renewal, an examination of what it means to remain.
The iconography of the ghost town is worth exploration; textures, objects, and reflections each take on new meaning in such circumstances. Renewal? Loss? Decay? Each has element in these places has the potential for making us consider the greater issues surrounding humankind’s relationship with nature, with time, with itself. This image is just such a treatise.
I came upon this homestead as evening moved into night, the clouds of a passing storm moving off to the east. The loneliness of the stark-white walls against the deepening dark, the distant peaks, and the dry desert left the thoughts of humankind’s relationship with the dry places of the world on my mind for many miles.
The Stark Bros. Store has a long history in St. Elmo, and one of both prosperity, tenacity, and ultimate demise. As the town died out in the 1930s, Annabelle and her brother, Tony Stark (no, not Iron Man Tony Stark) eventually were the only residents of the near-ghost town. After she died in 1960, local legend says Annabelle returned to haunt the store and hotel in which she eked out a meager existence for so many years.
Either way, the iconography and composition of the hotel–regardless of what Anna may think–make a compelling photograph.
It seems the more I visit Jay Em, the more I find. A magical place.
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.