I was originally going to submit my project idea called Gray. It's one I have been coming back to on and off for quite some time, but have not really found the right way to approach it.
The Gray project dives into my family history and is centred around the disappearance of my great grandfather Ben Gray. He went missing in the late '70s and the project explores the impacted it had my family. There is a lot of family folklore around this story, which I find interesting and think it would make an intriguing photo essay.
My family were (and some still are) ranchers in Gunnison and the Uncompahgre Valley in Colorado. Ben Gray was quite the cowboy. Along with being known for his rodeos, he was suspected of rustling cattle and horses, which as you can imagine made him not so popular with some people in that community. There are two main stories that I have heard over the years. One is that he was murdered by a hit man hired by his brother, and two that he had a dispute about land, and horses with neighbouring Ute tribe members at the time that lead to him disappearing, and again possibly murdered.
I have found it hard to dive into because there is a lot of hypothetical situations and a lot of family, and somewhat social politics involved that I am not sure I want to approach yet.
How does this relate to my current project proposal?
Two of the biggest themes I find myself drawn to consistently are spaces and landscapes... and the people that inhabit them.
Documenting my surroundings and the people in them became a very natural way for me to communicate and connect my UK and US friends and family. Over the years I have noticed that I have always been drawn to the run down, the abandoned, the somewhat lonely looking structures, wild landscapes that paint the picture of the American West and the people that live there or once did.
Above is early GCSE and A level work. This is when I started exploring the idea, but at the time it was more reflective of me searching for identity and being an angsty teenager. Naturally.
(Photos 1 & 2 of an abandoned motel and cars Blue Mesa, CO. Photos 3 & 4 an abandoned house in Langdon North Dakota)
Jumping to current time, this theme is still prevalent and is a strong foundation in all my work. However, now what I am drawn to when I see these places and people, is the impact we have had on the environment and how it has affected past and present generations.
High Desert is a project about life in western America, starting in Colorado and exploring other high desert areas, such as New Mexico, Utah and possibly parts of California.
What I want to delve into with this project is:
*The Utopian / Dystopian balance in this environment
*The history of our relationship with the land and how is it now. Is it evolving?
*The extremes that come from the high desert environment and how we react to it.
-such as the structures we create, and what materials we use
-the emotional response we have to it
*How can we improve the way we use the land, and can we make amends for what we have already done?
My initial research and inspirations:
Jason Lee - A plain view
''My aim isn’t to make it depressing, but there is a little bit of a loneliness to it,” Lee says. “In a way, that’s kind of interesting, because it makes you want to stop and maybe pay a little more attention. It’s isolated, in a way. There’s something isolated about it, so you’re focused on what the thing is as its own piece, but then hopefully there’s a cohesive overall piece.” - form a format article
I love the gentle stillness in his work, and the very classic representation of the abandoned American dream, which I think is hard to avoid when approaching this topic.
Morgane Erpicum - Volatile Permanence
Her focus on the environment itself is what really draws me in. Also very attracted to the stillness and the sometimes abstract point of view she has of the landscape.
Eduardo Cerruti / Stephanie Draime - www.cerrutidraime.com
They use the abandoned, dystopian backdrop to emphasize a product or lifestyle. The duality of that intrigues me.
Blue Sky Center - About
An organisation building resilient, thriving and inclusive rural economies.
Andrea Zittel - About
Artist Andrea Zittel created a number of pods inspired by NASA mars space tents on her property in the desert near Joshua Tree CA.