Population 800

"While obtaining my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Brigham Young University, I spent a lot of my time running away, finding a need to get out of Provo, then Utah, and then the United States." - Population 800. This project was the start of something bigger for me. To date, it's the most extensive project I have done yet. However, it feels like the beginnings of many other projects.

It was in this space that I experimented with the film stock I was going to take to Bosnia. I recorded short films that I would practice on before going to Russia. I tried out new places to develop film. I even developed some of these precious images myself as some of the first color rolls I processed. To this day I can't believe I did that. I took out cameras I had never used to shoot test rolls on. I also can't believe I did that.

On and off for about nine years, I worked on a long term project across Utah. It was a slow project that would come and go in spurts. An occasional drive here and there, adding in a few more towns as I plotted the populations of towns on a map. "During my travels, I have become a master guesser of populations. Like a child guessing how many candies are in a jar, I can drive into any small town and know, more or less, its population."

I once had a professor ask why I felt the need to travel so far and wide to tell a story. He insisted that I knew my home best, and I should tell those stories. The only problem was, I didn't feel at home anywhere. "Temporarily quenching my wanderlust, these towns made me feel as if I was thousand miles away, when in reality I was only an hour’s drive..." I had never lived in a small town. Sure, this was my "home" for now, but even then, I lived in the biggest city in the state and only was a voyeur into these other lives. 

I feel as if this sentiment is true for much of my photography. I am always the outsider, peeping through windows into a world that is not my own. Perhaps as I attempt to put down roots in a place, my style of photography will change. Or, perhaps as Josef Koudelka said about being in one place for too long-- I will become blind.

  Above: Storm rolling in over Elmo, population 408.  Fall 2014.  Below:  Three men out for a cup of coffee during a blizzard. Eureka, population 766.  Winter 2010.

Above: Storm rolling in over Elmo, population 408. Fall 2014.

Below: Three men out for a cup of coffee during a blizzard. Eureka, population 766. Winter 2010.

Armbruster_Population800_documentary_photographers.jpg
  Dott Young, the oldest member in Wanship, population 400.  December 2014.

Dott Young, the oldest member in Wanship, population 400. December 2014.

  Snowville the northern most small town on I-84. Population 172 .

Snowville the northern most small town on I-84. Population 172.

  Charlie Strebel the day before he turned 72, sitting in his cafe, Sagebrush Inn, which doubles as a grocery store and inn. Tabiona, population 169 . August 2015.

Charlie Strebel the day before he turned 72, sitting in his cafe, Sagebrush Inn, which doubles as a grocery store and inn. Tabiona, population 169. August 2015.

  Above: Pep talk before his event in the rodeo. Randolph, population 466 . June 2016.  Below: Born and raised in Holden, Bonnie Layman prepares to work in her garden. She now lives in warmer weather in the winter, but still calls Holden home all summer. Holden, population 377.  Spring 2016.

Above: Pep talk before his event in the rodeo. Randolph, population 466. June 2016.

Below:Born and raised in Holden, Bonnie Layman prepares to work in her garden. She now lives in warmer weather in the winter, but still calls Holden home all summer. Holden, population 377. Spring 2016.

documentary photography utah
  Interior of the Town Hall in Eureka.

Interior of the Town Hall in Eureka.

  Billy, the man who owns Main Street in Eureka and keeps all the buildings maintained. Eureka, population 682.  Winter 2010.

Billy, the man who owns Main Street in Eureka and keeps all the buildings maintained. Eureka, population 682. Winter 2010.

  Braden practicing for a goat competition at the rodeo. Randolph, population 466.  June 2016.

Braden practicing for a goat competition at the rodeo. Randolph, population 466. June 2016.

  Interior of a home, Wanship, population 400 . December 2014.

Interior of a home, Wanship, population 400. December 2014.

  A young boy at the Randolph Rodeo. He doesn’t feel like he fits in, he wants to be an artist.  June 2016.

A young boy at the Randolph Rodeo. He doesn’t feel like he fits in, he wants to be an artist. June 2016.

  Interior of Brad's Gun Shop in Eureka, Utah.

Interior of Brad's Gun Shop in Eureka, Utah.

  Huntsville, Utah.

Huntsville, Utah.

  Colton prepares his gun for target practice with a friend outside his family home. Elmo, population 408.  Fall 2014.

Colton prepares his gun for target practice with a friend outside his family home. Elmo, population 408. Fall 2014.

  Interior of a building in Eureka. Nearly the entire bottom half of Main Street is owned by one man who maintains and preserves many of the historical buildings .

Interior of a building in Eureka. Nearly the entire bottom half of Main Street is owned by one man who maintains and preserves many of the historical buildings.

  Sheree shows a family album from the settlement of her town in the cafe she works at. Her family settled the town, she has been driving since she was 7, and she knows all the best hot springs in the area. Fayette, population 249 . Fall 2014.

Sheree shows a family album from the settlement of her town in the cafe she works at. Her family settled the town, she has been driving since she was 7, and she knows all the best hot springs in the area. Fayette, population 249. Fall 2014.

  Farm Silos. "The town was formerly called Mt. Nebo. It had its name changed about 1908 when a group of men who had organized the company known as the Utah Valley Land and Water Company, went there and purchased the whole valley... They had set up the orchard then they changed the name from Mt. Nebo to Elberta. Peaches of many kinds, mostly Elberta peaches, pears, apricots, many variety. The reason it was called Elberta was because of the Elberta peach."  The Road Back to Elberta  by Wayne Bateman

Farm Silos. "The town was formerly called Mt. Nebo. It had its name changed about 1908 when a group of men who had organized the company known as the Utah Valley Land and Water Company, went there and purchased the whole valley... They had set up the orchard then they changed the name from Mt. Nebo to Elberta. Peaches of many kinds, mostly Elberta peaches, pears, apricots, many variety. The reason it was called Elberta was because of the Elberta peach." The Road Back to Elberta by Wayne Bateman

  A rancher holding a painting of the wild west based on his horses. This painting won first place in the Utah State Fair many years prior. Elberta, population 256.

A rancher holding a painting of the wild west based on his horses. This painting won first place in the Utah State Fair many years prior. Elberta, population 256.

  Pineview Reservoir in Huntsville, year round population 649 with a largely fluctuating seasonal population.

Pineview Reservoir in Huntsville, year round population 649 with a largely fluctuating seasonal population.

  A couple sit in their car enjoying Diet Coke and a view after dumping yard waste outside of town. Escalante, population 793.  October 2013.

A couple sit in their car enjoying Diet Coke and a view after dumping yard waste outside of town. Escalante, population 793. October 2013.

  Dylan helping his mother fix the fence. His mother has lived all over the world, but thinks there is nothing better than completing the farm chores every day. Axtell, population 237.  Fall 2014.

Dylan helping his mother fix the fence. His mother has lived all over the world, but thinks there is nothing better than completing the farm chores every day. Axtell, population 237. Fall 2014.

 

Artist Statement.

While obtaining my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Brigham Young University, I spent a lot of my time running away. First finding a need to get out of Provo, then Utah, and eventually the United States. My flights resulted in a myriad of adventures, stories, and long road trips. It was during these long drives that I consistently ran into small Utah towns. Each consisting of a corner store, a post office, and the occasional child racing down the street. One after another I saw the patterns as I slowed down to 30 mph to watch the old signs and shops crawl past my window. Eventually, I fell in love with these towns, finding myself stopping in them more frequently, foregoing my final destination. I wanted to know more about their history, their stories, and their people. Thus, this project began.

 

Driving through Utah, it is hard not to pass through small towns. I drove nearly every weekend collecting images and recording stories. During my travels, I have become a master guesser of populations. Like a child guessing how many candies are in a jar, I can drive into any small town and know, more or less, its population. For almost eight years I have driven across Utah, seeking out these places. I am especially fascinated by the smallest ones, towns with populations of 800 people or less. 

 

Temporarily quenching my wanderlust, these towns made me feel as if I was thousand miles away, when in reality I was only an hour’s drive from home. It expanded my ability to go out of my comfort zone, to wander with purpose, and to be patient while people told me their life stories. These experiences helped me realize that each one of these towns has its own unique soul once you look and ask. Even now after moving away, I find myself coming back to small-town Utah to look for population signs again. 

 
 

Exhibitions and Publications.

'18 Utah Historical Quarterly, review in print and on-line gallery

’16 LATITUDE Chicago, Portrait contest winner

’16 Society for Photographic Education, "America" Contest Winner

’12 B.F. Larsen Main Gallery, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT

’12 Orem Public Library, Orem, UT

’12 Permanent Collection of the Orem Public Library, Orem, UT, connection program by Andi Pitcher-Davis

 

Thanks.

A big thanks to James Swensen at Brigham Young University who believe in this project and helped inch it forward. Also a big thank you to Andi-Pitcher Davis who helped put this project out in the world and on walls. And lastly, thank you to every community that took me in, allowed me in their homes, and told their stories.