University Of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2003
Available on Photo-Eye
From Steve Fitch:
Using a large format view camera, I have been making color pictures inside abandoned buildings on the high plains of Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.
If you imagine a time-lapse movie filmed looking down from a birds-eye view onto the high Great Plains you would see various waves of human occupation washing across the landscape during the past ten to thirty thousand years. Beginning with early paleo hunters these occupations have all left their artifacts and ruins upon the earth.
The most recent wave of human occupation began in the second half of the nineteenth century and consisted mostly of settlers of European ancestry who displaced the indigenous plains peoples. Encouraged to settle and farm the semi-arid high plains by the Homestead Act and promotional activities of various railroad companies, these new inhabitants began to abandon the plains from the very moment then began to settle them.
This abandonment was accelerated by the Great Depression of the thirties and in most areas of the Great Plains has continued unabated. During World War II and the following Cold War, people left the open plains for jobs on the coasts and in the cities and the exodus continues today. Left behind are the shells of their former lives: houses on farms and in towns, schools, churches, bars, honky tonks and dance halls.
My photographs are made inside these shells and represent a moment in time at the junction of three histories on the Great Plains: natural, cultural, and personal. I recognize the rooms, artifacts and the blackboards in these photographs. During the fifties and the sixties I was raised in spaces like these and taught from similar blackboards. I also recognize the nightmarish, spooky look these pictures have because it resembles how I imagined the remains of our world might look if the Cold War ever did produce its nuclear war.
Scattered across the plains these interior spaces exist like countless individual “museums” dotting the landscape and are the most private part of the landscape. However, the “exhibits” inside are not frozen in time but are instead in a state of constant change. Like crime scene photographs these pictures are loaded with the evidence of innumerable past events which accumulates over time to shape a detailed scene that I discover and photograph.
From Robert Adams (to Steve Fitch):
"It's a remarkable achievement--I am so glad you sent it. Taken along with Judith Ross's book of war portraits, Tony Hernandez's book about LA, and Mark Ruwedel's of train right-of-ways, I find myself suddenly in possession of hope...for my own spirit, for art, even for certain aspects of the country...
Not only are the pictures resonant...your text (and of course Gilfillan's) is A-1...
Years ago when I was sitting in a cafe in eastern Colorado I had an alarming but eventually peaceful flash forward...the front window was out, the door swung in the wind, the remains of the curtains flapped...your book brings it back, or forward...Amen."