Carbon County

The wagon ruts were quieted when the transcontinental railroad was built in 1869.  Now people fly, or drive across Interstate Highways missing all the little whistle stops that are quiet along the nearby two-lane roads.  Since America's destiny was deemed manifest (for better or worse), the landscape here has often been crossed in search of something more such as: California Gold, Utah Salt, or Oregon Timber.  Carbon County, Wyoming was named after extensive coal deposits, when the Union Pacific Railroad began mining the area to fuel its steam locomotives. This is a region where American women first received the right to vote, and bandits such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid roamed, and robbed.

After an artist residency in 2015, I quickly became enamored with this land.  As a native borne New Yorker, it beckoned me to return, and in 2017 as a result I sought employment at a private dude ranch.  Wyoming and Carbon County grew ever larger in my imagination after we settled in as a family. Through popular culture I inherited a false mythos of the American West as a place of abundance and adventure.  I strove to unburden myself from this flawed perception as I began searching for a notion of a True West shaped through a better understanding of its history. A metaphor within the title revealed itself.  Carbon is to unquenchable desire for experience and resource, as County is to its untenable, bordered end.

Highway Arbor

Despite the archaic sprawl and unaccommodated loneliness pervading America’s byways, there remains the oldest, most striking structures of all. One guards a rocky crest overlooking U.S. Route 19 near Rocky Gap, West Virginia, forming a mise en scène resembling a contemporary play. As if waiting for me to pass, a solitary Ocotillo Cactus stands aside the road in California’s desert. Along Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania, we see power lines stretching over a tree stump, as if to make claim to the territory. Trees sprout up in the most surprising places. During long stretches of time driving, it is difficult not to begin to anthropomorphize, to attribute these trees human characteristics. In cities we have parks deliberately constructed and trees planted according to the phenomenological goals of urban planners. These arboreal roadside companions seem to eschew any of that. Instead they stand as objects of serendipitous beauty, unintentionally placed yet completely appropriate.

Locomotive

The Electro-Motive Divison of General Motors constructed streamlined diesel locomotives beginning in 1939. Their performance and aesthetic appeal led to the demise of the steam locomotive’s costly burden. Although most railroads in the United States were either gone or in severe financial straits by the 1960s, these locomotives remained in service. They stand as historical relics, pieces of equipment that witnessed the pre-1950s railroad hegemony transition into today’s geographically indistinct rail conglomerates. This is an ongoing project where I am documenting existing F- and E-series locomotives carrying markings of these once powerful and regionally distinct railroads. Affectionately called “Fallen Flags”, these roads crossed the country with over 230,000 track miles, more than double today’s mileage.

National Character

Picturing America is to unfurl a tapestry of exceptionalism -- not the “City upon the Hill” exceptionalism, but a genuine, vestigial kind. As highway began replacing railroad lines in the 1950s, a restructuring of physical and social space began. Suburbs rose and cities suffered. What persists is an illustrative tracery of people and places, rich in their ability to find meaning in transformation.

Railroad Landscapes

Space changes around rail lines that remain generations after their construction. The tracks flow into the distance or cut across a picture, leaving us in wonder; and yet their confident line anchors one to its path. Once bustling depots sit forlorn, objects of aesthetic pride are forgotten. Elsewhere, tracks flow through immutable mountain passes. This body of photographs examines the overlooked track-side environment of America's railroads. From the urban to the rural, I set out to examine how the tracks exist as a narrative force within the frame while also looking to places describing our collective history.

“He knew at once he found the proper place. He saw the lordly oaks before the house, the flower beds, the garden and the arbor, and farther off, the glint of rails..." -Thomas Wolfe