Bryan Schutmaat‘s photo series ‘Grays The Mountain Sends’ is an incredibly poignant document of the American West, the small mining towns that time seems to have forgot. His images are without political impetus yet are a stark reminder to all of us that even within so called progressive countries – that proclaim to be digital masters of the Universe and decry anyone who does not believe that individualist capitalism is the only way to live – there are many communities left out. Altogether. Are poverty stricken and left to scramble, to die, forgotten. Unknown.
Here’s what Schtmaat has to say about the project – of which there are many more photographs – and I’ve also included the poem by Richard Hugo that he based the work on. It was written during the Great Depression:
This project combines portraits, landscapes, and still lifes in a series of photos that explores the lives of working people residing in small mountain towns and mining communities in the American West. Equipped with a large format view camera, and inspired by the poetry of Richard Hugo, I’ve aimed to hint at narratives and relay the experiences of strangers met in settings that spur my own emotions. Ultimately, this body of work is a meditation on small town life, the landscape, and more importantly, the inner landscapes of common men.
Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg
You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.
The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs—
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.
Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?
Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.
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