Many different kinds of truths can be told of a place. The changes that a landscape
displays visually reflect not only what is there but what has been lost, it’s value
dependent on what it affords us. I rarely have any prior connection to the places
I photograph but there is a familiarity in them. A past intimacy with that kind of place that makes me feel like belong there. Details give form to personal histories,
structures provide references for memories, and specific landscapes allow for a universal
language about loss and hope, truth and beauty. During my time at the Taft Nicholson
Center I hoped to photograph the Centennial Valley in order to explore these themes
as they relate to the specific region. The Centennial Valley was of particular interest
to me because of the unique approach to land management that exists there. While in
residency I documented the industries that hold a shared responsibility to the landscape:
environmental conservation, tourism and ranching. Studying these connections allowed
me to consider my relationship to this kind of landscape, and to examine the personal
memories that come from being in a place that is both familiar and unfamiliar. The
work I completed during my time as artist in residence helped me further explore how
themes relating to place and memory can be conveyed in a photograph.
My father died recently, May 9, 2016. Three months and two days ago, an interesting fact only because I’ve been here long enough that I couldn’t tell you what day of the week it is. “Here” is the Centennial Valley of Montana. The environmental education center that is hosting me makes up what is left of the town of Lakeview. It sits tucked in a pocket of the Centennial and Gravelly Mountains, and the Red Rock Lake Wildlife Refuge sprawls out before it.
My dad knew I had applied for this residency but he didn’t know I had been accepted-and it seemed appropriate to proclaim the trip would be done in his name after he died. The truth is, I didn’t really need the distraction of this trip. I have felt generally at peace over his death since I watched it happen. Or maybe I just decided it was easier to feel that way. How do you honor someone? I didn’t grow up in a culture with rituals, my father would have scoffed at the idea. The need to make meaningful proclamations was strictly reserved for holidays, and even then only when forced by a well meaning but obviously not blood related aunt. But the need to commemorate, to acknowledge thoughtfully, still seems necessary.
My time here has been peppered with thoughts of how much he would like it here, of him: taking the truck rumbling down prairie roads just to see what’s there; sitting on the porch watching the hummingbirds and chipmunks; waving to the occasional passerby along the road through town, a portion of the Continental Divide Trail formed by 70 plus miles of former stagecoach line that ran from Monida to West Yellowstone; realizing the pencil I’m writing with was his because it’s been sharpened with a knife blade, not a pencil sharpener, and reads “Beronio Lumber”. He would not feel as intimidated as I do about the prospect of getting to know this place, he would feel perfectly at home.
Can you make things meaningful through sheer will or effort? Maybe, but it feels it should be unnecessary if you’re living life right. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, which I suppose helps spur thoughts regarding meaning. Also, finding meaning is easy here because living here is hard. But mostly, my dad is simply a part of me, and a large part of why I like these kinds of places. He is why I wanted to come here, and that has more to do with his life than with his death.