This installation is made up of a collection of family imagery from the American Southwest, which belongs to my father in law, Larry Evans, who grew up in Fort Sumner, New Mexico in the 1930’s and later moved with his family to Edmund, Oklahoma in the 1940’s. The New Mexico images were shot on black and white film and range in date from the teens up until the time he left. The Oklahoma images are mostly color and extend into the 1960’s.
Most of the diptychs are made up of one picture from New Mexico and one from Oklahoma. Juxtaposed against each other, they present some obvious dichotomies such as black and white vs. color and early vs. mid-twentieth century. But as you look closer, there are other contrasts: outdoor vs. indoor, agrarian vs. suburban and non-material vs. material comforts. Yet at the same time, the images work together to inform a single narrative.
This acquisition of material goods is also reflected in the types of cameras used by the photographers, as well as the role of the photograph in family life. The early images were shot with a camera that created large back and white negatives. Also, portraits were more formal with often makeshift set ups, suggesting that they may have been made by a traveling photographer – making their way though town. And subjects were often dressed in their Sunday best, implying they may have been coming back from church. In contrast, the negatives from the color images were much smaller, candid and abundant – reflecting how more common, portable and affordable photography became in people’s lives.
Having few connections to the people in these pictures allows me free reign to think of them as fictional characters. While some appear to be welcoming, others are more standoffish – looking at the viewer with suspicion as if to say, “Who are you and why are you here?” This dynamic places the viewer’s point of view as a “stranger” who comes to town – attempting to infiltrate the environment. Much like Clint Eastwood’s character in the 1973 film, High Plains Drifter, the townspeople’s reaction to him is as much a reflection of their own small mindedness than to the stranger himself.