High Plains Lament is a collection of photographs exploring the physical traces of depopulation in the High Plains of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
My method has been to drive from town to town, stopping for a while in each place to explore the environment. I typically find the locals to be inviting and open, often striking up conversation with me and telling me stories spanning the course of decades. On the other hand, those same locals are scarce. I often wander the streets in complete isolation for hours at a time, seeing scarcely any trace of activity.
Importantly, this work passes over obvious subjects in favor of a more obscure topic. Almost no one has the slightest idea what is “out there” on the High Plains, save what they have seen from the edges of the freeway. Even for those who live in nearby cities, the region is perceived as a vast expanse of pretty much nothing. They aren’t entirely wrong, and that is the beauty of it. I have ignored the cities, the mountain destinations, and all obvious attractions in favor of the unspectacular truth of an overlooked geographical region.
While cities increasingly offer us the beige modernism of our times, towns in the middle of the country allow for more variation. Rather than the high-rise condominium, we find the grain elevator towering over the community as a central landmark. Rather than the corporate logo we find the hand-painted sign, replete with charming errors of composition. Humanism in the social landscape survives there. These places are dusky images of the twentieth century, tattered with age and neglect. Their authenticity is the unexpected and perhaps unrecognized benefit of having been left behind by economic progress. The simple organic characteristics of the streets and neighborhoods in the plains take one back through the decades, arriving at a sense of life that is timeless and essential. In collecting fragmentary images of these local accents I have recorded a facet of our national identity that, historically speaking, is passing through a long inconclusive twilight. As populations continue to decline, some of these towns are likely to disappear completely.
The focus of my attention in these locations has been the passage of time, the melancholy of a world in decline. The subtle intimations of decay are intended to reflect a broader abstract significance that transcends any subject matter or regional interest. The High Plains may set the stage, but the passage of time is the player.
I have executed this work with traditional tools: The Leica M3, 50mm Summicron lens, and orange filter. I’m very pleased to have limited myself to these elemental basics, a small personal refutation of gimmickry and consumer trends.
High Plains Lament is a vast work in progress, and I am presently seeking representation for publishing.
To learn more about Joseph Oxandale’s work, please visit his website.