By Loring Knoblauch
Lucas Foglia’s new images of the American West are the kind of pictures that will shore up your faith in the power of traditional, camera-based photography. There are no arcane conceptual theories being tested here, no earnest antique processes being used, no tricky software manipulations or iterative transformations – just plain old put your camera in the right place and click the shutter photography, and yet, I’ve hardly seen a show all year that delivered such consistent and controlled compositional elegance.
It would be all too easy to spend time considering the complex content in these photographs – the meaningful contrasts between ranching and mining, the relentlessness of the boom and bust cycles that have repeatedly built and destroyed the West, the myths and modern realities of the heroic cowboy, and the small town lives and rural traditions that often get lost in all the shuffle. Foglia’s pictures confidently touch on all of these themes and motifs, but it’s not their raw subject matter that makes them durably memorable. It is the subtle craftsmanship of these images that made me nod my head in admiration.
In the edit of images on view in this gallery show, nearly every picture has been put together with a sharp eye for composition, with meticulous formal attention paid to framing, linear vanishing points, and gestural movements. If you thought there was no place for ballet in the modern West, think again – bronc riders do warm up stretching using metal fencing just like a ballet barre, while a man shooting coyotes from a fencepost executes a gun toting twirl on one leg like an arabesque.
Foglia evokes the romance of the West with glorious billowing towers of wildfire smoke worthy of the clouds of Thomas Cole or John Constable and a rearing horse in training that’s a dead ringer for David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. The portrait of Amanda, with the cool water from the hose pouring over her head, is a serene modern Madonna of the mountains, in dripping blue.
Foglia’s emphasis on the lines in the geography (both man made and natural) is perhaps the single most commonly used tool in his visual toolbox. A rancher sits in his truck while moving lines of cattle along an arrow straight line of snow bracketed blacktop. A man holds a puzzlingly straight up rope to a hot air balloon (in the sky, out of the frame), standing on another dusty road to nowhere. Mining roads are streaked with curves of rusty orange residue, or are perfectly graded, aside from the off kilter angle of a fallen road sign. Vertical power plant towers loom straight out of impossibly black hills of coal, or exhale an endless trail of puffy smoke that echoes the whiteness of the frozen land below.
The unexpected contrast is another effective compositional technique at Foglia’s disposal: teenagers playing soccer expectantly looking away from the glorious mountains in the backdrop, or guys drinking beers in the scrub under the overhang of frozen glacial ice. In these images, the indescribable scale of the land subtly lurks behind its inhabitants.
Taken together, Foglia’s photographs find their way to a balanced middle ground, sitting at neither extreme usually found in the iconic photography of the American West, borrowing liberally from both the magnificent unblemished landscape and the caustic environmental screed schools of thought. His pictures are universally well-proportioned and refined, finding quiet moments of grace in the unlikeliest of places, from dusty roads to polluted runoffs, from Sunday best church clothes to herds of elk on the horizon. In the end, it’s a cracklingly accomplished body of work.