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.
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.
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.
No, despite being in a show called “PlainSky, Nebraskans,” this photograph was not made in the state. It’s a sister shot to “Ardmore,” an image that illustrates the alarming rate of depopulation that persists in much of the Great Plains, and while “Ardmore” is from South Dakota and just north of the Nebraska border, “Jay Em No. 1” is from just west of the state line into Wyoming, but suffered the same plight as Ardmore. It is now a ghost town, and while wandering the silent streets I found this image to alluring to resist with the bones of the trees in their withered organic forms against their ancestors wrought into an industrialized form, then utilized as the walls of a building that no longer hosts any life. The trees grasp skyward, the formal elements in the background of the photo in stark contrast, and reflected in the windows to the left are leaves that seem to taunt the barren branches below with false promises of bounty.
Number three in a series from the ghost town Jay Em in east central Wyoming.
Number two in my sketches of Jay Em, a ghost town in Wyoming.