By Genevieve Fussell
Between 2006 and 2013, Lucas Foglia travelled across the American West, where he photographed the effects of a mining boom in the backcountry of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming. From copper to oil, coal, gold, and natural gas, mining corporations have staked their claims in the rural West, often in the back yards of generations-old ranching communities. As he made his way through the region, Foglia collected the stories of the people he photographed, conversations that would help to shape the narrative of his latest book, “Frontcountry.”
Olan Clifford Teel, a rancher whom Foglia met in Wells, Nevada, writes in the book’s introduction, “The problem is that mining goes from boom to bust. I’ve watched the cycle. A company opens a mine near a small town. The mine brings out-of-town workers who need stores, schools, and doctors’ offices. The boom ends and the company leaves. The miners leave and then the other jobs leave, too. The land is scarred and the town is scarred.”
For all the damage it can cause, mining remains an economically attractive option, especially compared with ranching. A mine can provide steady pay for someone like Alice Hanauska, a truck driver for the Newmont Mining Corporation, whom Foglia photographed two years ago. “I never dreamed I would be driving a haul truck,” she told Foglia. “Now here I am, a woman miner. I really needed it, being a single mom. I was a beautician for twenty-three years with no benefits. Now I have them. I work twelve-and-a-half-hour shifts, seven to seven-thirty, rotating days and nights, forty-eight hours a week.”
Foglia, who grew up on a farm in New York, began his project in Star Valley, Wyoming, where, he told me, “the community felt small and the land felt bigger, harsher, and more remote than anything I had experienced.” The relationship between this landscape and the people who rely on it to support their livelihood is a central theme in “Frontcountry”: images of cowboys give way to pictures of the mining industry, a record of two very different life styles that, for now, coexist in some of the most sparsely populated and resource-rich regions of the American West.
“Frontcountry” was recently published by Nazraeli Press. Photographs from the book will be on exhibit at Fredericks & Freiser gallery, in New York, from March 20th to April 19th.