• PROOF:
  • March 20, 2015

A Personal Portrait of the American West

When I was talking to photographer Lucas Foglia about his work, I made the mistake of calling his photographs “artsy.” He quickly corrected me and told me that they were not artsy. They were “art.”

Foglia’s book Frontcountry demonstrates his commitment to that art—he spent seven years traveling across the rural American West to create a portrait of traditional ranching lifestyles, as well as the lifestyle created by a mining and energy boom.

I caught up with Foglia recently, and we talked about his project, his background growing up on a farm, and how easy it is to take a sense of community for granted.

Picture of a man on a post
Tommy trying to shoot coyotes, Big Springs Ranch, Oasis, Nevada, 2012

COBURN DUKEHART: Tell me about your inspiration for Frontcountry and how you started working on it.

LUCAS FOGLIA: One of my closest friends moved to rural Wyoming to work for the public radio station there, and I went to visit her. I’d never been to Wyoming before and I expected cowboys, ghost towns, and wilderness, but when I arrived, everyone was talking about a mining boom.

Picture of a girl at home in Nevada
Stacy before church, Diamond Valley, Nevada, 2012

COBURN: When you started photographing did you have themes in mind? How did this come together as a cohesive project for you?

LUCAS: Most of the time I go out with an idea. And this idea was simply to meet people who live in the contemporary, rural American West.

The first time I drove across Wyoming I hadn’t met up with my friend yet, and I was alone. I looked out across a rural highway and saw two million acres of sagebrush. Then I drove into a snowstorm and my car skidded off the road. I remember thinking that I could disappear there—if I got out and walked away no one would find me. It was the first time in my life I’d been in a landscape that I could disappear into.

And then within twenty minutes someone came by, and he said hello, and he had a chain in his pickup truck, and we pulled my car out. He gave me his number in case I ever came to his town and I kept on going. So it was also that idea of a huge landscape with small communities in it that drew me out there.

Picture of hay, Nevada
Baling hay, Diamond Valley, Nevada, 2012
Picture of Jaime, Ranch Hand, Wells, Nevada
Jaime, ranch hand, Wells, Nevada, 2012

COBURN: It appears you have a personal connection with a lot of the people in these pictures. Can you tell me about your relationship with your subjects?

LUCAS: I tend to go and spend time in a place, and learn stories by being there and meeting people.

This book resulted from years of trips and visits, and I got to know ranchers, and I got to know people who worked in mining and the natural gas fields. I photographed, and hung out, and helped out. One rancher told me that for the first day I was a guest, and after that I was free labor.

Picture of Amanda after a Birthday Party, Jackson, Wyoming
Amanda after a birthday party, Jackson, Wyoming, 2010
Picture of Moving Cattle to Spring Pasture, Boulder, Wyoming
Moving cattle to spring pasture, Boulder, Wyoming, 2011

COBURN: You grew up on a farm. How do you feel that that influenced your relationship to the people you met and the images you made?

LUCAS: I grew up growing food with my family, and I think if farming is done well then it can be sustainable. Farmers work 24/7—there’s not a lot of money in farming, but it can survive. Mining is boom to bust.

The gold rush brought a lot of people to the West, but the nuggets of gold that made the American West famous are mostly gone. Now, with modern technology, companies are making holes where there were mountains and digging bigger and bigger holes to mine smaller and smaller things. At the same time, with the current economy, there are a lot of incentives for ranchers to add cattle to land, and there’s a risk of overgrazing.

So I’m not going in with rose-colored glasses about any of the industries I photographed. I want the book to be a portrait, not an indictment, because everyone I photographed talked about caring about the landscape.

Picture of Open Pit, Newmont Mining Corporation, Carlin, Nevada
Open pit, Newmont Mining Corporation, Carlin, Nevada, 2013
Picture of Brittany, Carlin, Nevada
Brittany, Carlin, Nevada, 2012

COBURN: Did working on this project change you at all or change your approach to the land?

LUCAS: It made me realize how important community is in a place that’s that big. Rural Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming are some of the least populated regions in the United States. In rural Nevada, there are almost twice as many cows as there are people. I thought that they would be places for loners—a place that someone would go to escape.

The second time I drove into Nevada, I drove to a ranch that had a driveway that was almost five miles long. And before I got there, they knew me by my car. I asked the rancher, ‘Is that common?’ And he said, ‘Yeah. We know who’s driving by just by seeing the little colors on the road.’

In my experience, people know each other and take care of each other, because you have to there. And that’s a thing that I miss when I go back home to a city.

Picture of Newmont Mining Corporation, Nevada
Coal Storage, TS Power Plant, Newmont Mining Corporation, Dunphy, Nevada 2012

*****

Lucas Foglia grew up on a small family farm in New York and holds an M.F.A. in photography from Yale University and a B.A. in art semiotics from Brown University. He currently lives in San Francisco. See more of his work on his website, and purchase his book Frontcountry here.

There are 14 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Stacie Hess
    May 7, 2015

    Insightful photos from perhaps the finest photographer I know!

  2. Neal F. Rattican
    March 29, 2015

    Indeed, Foglia’s work IS art! The images have a “creamy” quality to them, while at the same time providing texture that one can virtually feel. Outstanding work. Thanks.

  3. jose chavez
    March 27, 2015

    innovador

  4. Zahid Syed
    March 26, 2015

    Nice and very much interest in animal

  5. subus
    March 24, 2015

    When i lived in n. nevada, i had a cattle ranch, and i like to shoot coyotes in my free time yeayea. THEY ALWAYS TRIED TO EAT ME CATTLE. WA

  6. Mac
    March 24, 2015

    Amazing!

  7. Tomi
    March 23, 2015

    Northern Nevada is an amazing place. Used to live out of Winnemucca. Miss the people & the land.

  8. PPeckham
    March 22, 2015

    Thank you for sharing your experiences!!

  9. alvaro chinchilla
    March 22, 2015

    I like every¨s places national geographics

  10. Esan
    March 21, 2015

    Amazing photographs! Such vivid imagery and a great Q&A to go along with them. Well done, Nat Geo!

  11. Tom
    March 21, 2015

    You can visit, but you will leave your heart behind ..

  12. Cat Fleming
    March 20, 2015

    I Love Wyoming!

  13. Dean Mitchell
    March 20, 2015

    Open sky and open space…very timeless.

  14. somaratne
    March 20, 2015

    It called “beautiful mind”

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