I went for a little walkabout this morning, with three of my students. (Making pictures, of course.) The ladies are all in High School, and were born and raised here in Taos. None has left town very often, from what I can gather.
One went to visit some family in California this Summer. But it was only San Bernardino, which is kind of depressing. (Unless you love smog so thick that it makes mountains invisible. In which case, you might love it there.)
I tried to explain to the young photographers that when you’ve never left a place, or had the context of other cultures flashed before your eyes, you have to work a little harder to understand what makes a place unique. No sooner than I’d said that, we passed an old house that was cracked in two, with a rickety outhouse behind it.
I remind you, this is 2014.
I asked, “Do you think someone would find a functioning outhouse interesting in New York City? Or LA?” They agreed it was likely, but didn’t find an outhouse so unusual in their own lives. And then there was the broken-down-blue-school-bus on someone’s front lawn, which sported a giant rusted saw blade on the back, as an ornament.
We soon found ourselves at an old chapel, Nuestra Senora de Dolores, from 1873. That, they agreed, would be interesting to folks in the outside world too. I investigated the backyard, and found a well-preserved headstone. The woman buried beneath my feet had been born in 1845, when the land was still called Mexico.
“Can you believe it,” I wondered? They could, in fact, believe it. So much so that only one could be bothered to come take a look. Things like that aren’t so special here, though I’m sure they reek of American West authenticity, to you.
People have always been, and I venture will always be fascinated with the Frontier culture out here. It’s drawn dropouts from elsewhere, like me, and camera-toting tourists on day trips for as long as there have been cameras. It never gets old, but it does change. (Like Taos going from Native American territory, to New Spain, to Mexico, to America in short order.)
Given my confidence in your expected interest, how could I not review Lucas Foglia’s new book, “Frontcountry,” recently published by Nazraeli. The answer is, I could, and I will.
So let’s get to it.
Truth be told, I saw a show of some of this work in a gallery I’d never heard of, when I visited NYC last April. Speaking of change, Chelsea stays the same, but the names of the spaces are in constant rotation. This one, Fredericks & Freiser, was new, so I hope it’s still around.
I didn’t love the prints on the wall. They didn’t have a lot of pop. And I didn’t have a lot of time. But as I’ve learned, and have tried to share with you, a book is a completely different experience than a gallery exhibition. It’s in your hands, in your home, and there are often many more pictures to peruse, at your leisure.
Mr. Foglia does come across as a wandering, wondering, researching photographer. His first book, which I also reviewed, looked at a subculture of people who have returned to living in the wild. This one focuses on a much larger population of people who live off the land, but have always done so. Cowboys. Ranchers. Western types.
I give him props for his technical ability, and for his dogged desire to paint a holistic picture of life out in the West. The book leans heavily on Nevada and Wyoming in particular, so the world looks a little different from the one I inhabit. (A lot whiter, that is.) There are more natural resources around those parts, so mining and extraction make their way inside the pages as well.
Co-incidentally, there is a picture made here in Taos, yet it feels like a bit of a throw-in. But the rest of the book is seamless. Guns, cow entrails, exploded homes, mounds of garbage bags full of beer cans, soccer players juxtaposed against staggering mountains, a dude balancing on a fence post waiting to shoot coyotes. Basically, life for many in the mountainous fly-over states.
I don’t mean to impugn Mr. Foglia for not being “one of us.” That’s a freedom the West allows. You come out here, try to fit in, and before you know it, you speak with a twang, under certain circumstances. He’s a good enough artist that the thoroughness will win you over. (Though I do wonder if a tad more emotional resonance might have pushed the project over the top.)
These are some very well executed large format pictures. There’s a shot of a bulldozer roaming over coal mounds that’s so sharp, it looks like a model. Not real at all. I wondered, did he hit it with a big flash, or has he switched over to using a digital camera? Doesn’t matter. Great shot.
There are maps at the end, to orient you, which further amps up the anthropological bent. It’s not the West of Wenders, or Shore, who bottled up nostalgia and emotion, despite themselves.
It’s more the West as Gursky might do it. Clean. Clinical. And very much a project that represents what it sees, as best it can.
Like I said before, people will always eat this shit up. And photographers will always come out this way to take their shot. Like the suckers who keep trying to beat Jon Jones. They can’t help themselves.
This book, at the very least, will clue you in to a reality that you normally have to see for yourself. It’s excellent, and I heartily recommend it. Adios, partner.
Bottom Line: Excellent, clinical view of the contemporary Wild West
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