Adrain Chesser is a fascinating photographer, a man who’s been on a journey of self discovery ever since he realised was a gay kid stuck in a small conservative town in Florida. This otherness, this knowledge that he was different, on the fringes, turned into a lifelong quest to express this difference and led him to document others that lived on the margins of society; drag queens, transgendered people, people who choose to express themselves in a way not in keeping with the stringent social laws put down by those in authority. A way to capture the truth of a lived experience. ‘The Return’ is part of this quest for knowledge and began at a Native American ceremony called the Naraya, at Short Mountain, Tennessee.
At this ceremony he met Timothy White Eagle, Finisia Medrano and JP Hartsong. Their energy and way of living was a revelation to him and he began to document their lives. The project became a portrait of people living wild and free, untethered from society and was thematically centred around a journey through Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Northern California, where the friends took refuge in old shacks, dug roots planted hundreds of years ago by Native American grandmothers, lived off the bounty of abandoned orchards and killed and skinned wild animals.
The pictures tell a tale of an ancient people and nomadic traditions that go back millennia. Travelling with the seasons, using traditional hunter gatherer skills to survive, having a symbiotic relationship with the earth and living a life in balance. Chesser turned the project into an artistic collaborative book with his pictures and text by Timothy White Eagle, an Indigenous American of mixed ancestry who has has been exploring and creating rituals, studying with Indigenous American, Pagan and Haitian elders and exploring traditional forms of ceremony and storytelling.
It is a poignant series if only because the America of today has all but obliterated its indigenous past, has destroyed its connection to the land through greed, religion, industrialisation and capitalist expansion. Each picture is a reminder to us all that North America has much more to offer us than neon dreams. It is a deeply spiritual place whose ancient traditions continue and are a beacon to humanity. Here’s what Chesser has to say about the project:
The subjects in ‘The Return’ are predominantly not Indigenous. Most carry European ancestry. And most come in one form or another from the disenfranchised margins of mainstream America. Most are poor, some are queer, some are transgendered, some are hermits and some are politically radical. All believe that major shifts are needed in the way modern society interacts with the natural world. And all are willing pioneers, stepping off into uncertain terrain searching for something lost generations ago. Perhaps poetically, those attempting to live these ideals could be viewed as a rainbow tribe. In their search they struggle to be released from old ways of being. Cars, soda pop, cell phones and cigarettes follow them. Convenience has a magnetic power. Addictions, cravings, and desires are hard to break. These pioneer’s seek a new way in the world, while still learning to let go of the old. These are uncommon Heroes shedding layer by layer the learned domestication of the dominator culture.