"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.
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
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.