The American West has been presented in culture as both a lawless free-for-all and a land of great opportunity for those seeking to make something of themselves. This expansion and gravitation westward has been problematic throughout American history but serves as a backdrop to stories and fantasies at the center of American culture for generations. This idea of the American West presently manifests both as a physical uncertainty/clash of political ideologies and through popular culture through music, specifically outlaw country and folk.
Hot high-deserts are overlooked by towering snow capped peaks. Breezy alpine meadows are contrasted by the harsh dry winds that rip through the vast expanse of sagebrush below. Much like the landscape, the west (more specifically the non-coastal west: Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Eastern Oregon and Washington) consists of a stark contrast between leftist and right wing ideologies. Adventure seeking, nature loving millennials and gen z's flock to natural wonders and untouched landscapes and clash with the local population of these areas. It is also here, where agriculture and oil companies clash with conservation organizations and national parks, where this tension only seems to grow. The American West straddles a gray area between extremes and in some ways seems to be struggling between its problematic past and uncertain future.
My infatuation with the American West began a few summers ago while working with my friends Marcus Journey and William Casey on the project "On the Mormon Trail," documenting the trail from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah. Passing through Wyoming and Utah was my first experience in what most people would consider the Wild West; my first time leaving the South. My interest only grew the more time spent out there experiencing things I had never realized existed and had only heard of in movies and music.
This project is an extension of my vision of the American West. In an attempt to find what is real and what is just an illusion and hopefulness, to find parallels to the environmental issues I continue to grapple with in the South. I do not own the West, but I hope to understand where my visions of the Wild West meet reality.