Our perception of the life and times of those who lived through the American Western Expansion has been a cornerstone of cultural identity in America since the closure of the Frontier in the late 1800's. The West has existed in our imaginations ever since, a utopian land of opportunity representing a simpler life compared with the industrial and technologically based generations that followed. There is a pattern to the American desire to escape into these myths, our origin story, especially in times that are economically troubled or driven by war.
Functioning as cultural historians, photographers in the United States have documented America's changing face for almost 200 years. Each artist built upon the work of the previous and the context and concerns of their generation shaped their point of view. The 1970's New Topographic artists photographed the landscape in direct opposition to utopian visions of the landscape made famous by photographers like Ansel Adams, or the grand survey projects of the mid-nineteenth century. These artists sought to document how our development impacted the environment by picturing the landscape and the rapid expansion into the suburbs where these two forces intersect.
I have been driving and photographing all over the Western states for the last five years for my project titled The West Is Here. Just as in my previous work, I use the landscape as a metaphor for a larger disconnect from one another socially, culturally and politically. Instead of making photographs devoid of emotion or judgment, my photographs are built around these very elements. I photograph to create order where there is disorder, and tension and discord where I sense its resonance. I often employ the strategy of providing a minimum amount of context surrounding the objects. The disjunctive elements and their often deliberately broken framing systems add humor, and remove the narrative leaving them to speak of emotional states individually and collectively.
Do you know the old adage? 'No matter where you go, there you are.' The West is Here. It is a place-less place, a myth; it's the utopia we want to escape to and in searching for the West we begin to define ourselves. There's a natural cycle in progress, and in these photographs we've entered it towards the end, at the stage where most of these objects or structures are slowly disintegrating and being reclaimed by the very landscape they once arrogantly sought to command. How does our landscape mirror our cultural identity and what does the visible death of the landscape mean to our collective conscience?
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