Off The Beaten Path: The Photographs of Lucas Foglia
Lucas Foglia photographs communities far from our quick cities. Between 2006 and 2013, the Yale School of Art graduate traveled throughout America’s south east and rural midwest for his photography series “A Natural Order” and “Frontcountry,” respectively. The former, a poignant homage to self-sufficiency, documents the agrarian lifestyle of families that reside off the grid together, farming and living off the forest’s natural resources. The latter—and most recent—is an account of the mining boom currently underway in the backcountry of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming, where corporations have laid claim to land that, in many cases, is the backyard of centuries-old ranching communities. Companies come in temporarily, create jobs and bustle and economy, and then go, taking the progress with them and leaving the towns—and not to mention the land—traumatized. Both series manage to reorient coastal America’s uninformed view of what’s in the middle of this country. The photos are sympathetic and telling; you can see clearly that Foglia befriends his subjects.
“Frontcountry” was published recently by Nazraeli Press.
Where did you grow up, where do you live now, and how did you get into photography?
I grew up on a farm in Long Island, 30 miles from New York City. My parents still farm, but the land around us was sold and developed. So now there are suburban houses where our neighbors’ farms and woods used to be. Now I live in Berkeley, California, in a community of friends.
For me, photography is both a reason to be somewhere and a way of storytelling.
You seem drawn to isolated cultures. Both “A Natural Order” and “Frontcountry” explore communities remote from the ultra modern world of cities. What sparks that interest?
In both projects I befriended and photographed people who chose to live in small communities next to wild land, much of which was being developed. For instance, in Nevada whole towns are built or abandoned based on fluctuations in the price of gold. The places I photographed are far away from where I grew up, but the experiences I had there felt close to home.
What struck you most when you were working on “A Natural Order?”
Everyone I photographed was trying to live self-sufficiently. I was struck that everyone I photographed was, in some way, still connected to the mainstream. Whether through a cell phone or a car, everyone I met who had moved off the grid had chosen parts of the mainstream world to bring with them.
You’ve mentioned that “Frontcountry” was initially a study in place, but soon turned to one of people. Can you discuss that shift? Was it conscious while you were shooting? How much flexibility do you allow for in your projects?
The questions that I started with: What jobs allow people to live in the American West today? How should we use the wild land we have left?
The American West is famous for big skies and open land. I first visited expecting to photograph cowboys, ghost towns and wilderness. What I encountered was a mining boom—from gold to coal, copper, oil, and natural gas. “Frontcountry” focuses on the ways that two very different lifestyles, ranching and mining, share and depend on the same landscape.
I made more than 60,000 photographs. In editing them down to the 60 in the book, I printed and sequenced the images that felt the most memorable from and applicable to the project. Photographing feels intuitive, almost always prompted by surprises. Editing is more rational.
How long do you typically spend in one location and what have your relationships been like with your subjects?
I met almost everyone I photographed through friends of friends. Seven years of visits, stories, recommendations. I would travel for two weeks to three months at a time.
Did you find that your subjects in “Frontcountry” were generally happy? Or did they seem resigned to or complacent with their lifestyle? Or, was there no real pattern?
It’s hard to generalize about happiness. Everyone I photographed was working hard to be able to live there. For cowboys today, it takes a good amount of will just to stay on the horse, and there are many economic incentives to leave.
Americans (in particular, coastal Americans) have a lot of preconceptions about rural America—much of which is actually misconception and nearly all of which stems from a superficial study of images of the region. Your photos seem to contest those preconceptions, break with the cursory understanding we have of rural America. What in your work do you think generates that break and is this one of your objectives?
A rancher who I visited said that for the first day I was a guest and after that I was free labor. By staying in a place for long enough I encounter situations. I make photographs in response to those situations. I want to make everyday moments feel memorable, relevant. I think the best photographs leave you asking questions, and I hope the book has enough information between the essay, the titles, and the maps, so that you can learn more if you choose to.
What is your WILD Wish?
That when my kids have kids, there will be wild land for them to travel to.