By Thom Patterson
Not too long ago, Lucas Foglia found himself witnessing a killing.
He watched as Wyoming schoolteacher Adam Isaacson aimed a rifle at the soon-to-be victim — a cow ready for slaughter. Foglia pointed his camera at both of them.
Just before Isaacson pulled the trigger, Foglia triggered his shutter. “The sound of my camera made the cow look at me,” Foglia recalled.
He snapped another photo, and a split second later Isaacson fired his weapon.
The cow was dead.
“That moment of eye contact felt the most memorable,” Foglia said.
Foglia’s Nazraeli Press book “Frontcountry” offers a photographic perspective on the American West, birthplace of so much of the nation’s iconic mythology. But instead of finding cowboys, ghost towns and wilderness as he expected, Foglia found ranchers, boomtowns and mining companies.
The book documents a kind of ongoing dialogue between two sometimes competing lifestyles: ranching and mining.
The first, Foglia explains, is connected to the land. The other is based on extraction from the land. At age 31, with two books under his belt, Foglia tends to gravitate toward dynamic, culturally relevant, location-based projects.
“I think the world is more complicated than the situations I can imagine in my head,” Foglia told CNN this week by phone from his family farm on Long Island, New York.
One of the book’s more memorable images shows Nevada rancher Tommy Stowell performing a balancing act on a fence post while holding a loaded rifle.
The story behind the photo goes like this: After Foglia and Stowell got to know each other a little, Stowell offered to show Foglia how to shoot a coyote while standing on top of a fence pole.
“He climbed up on top of the pole with his gun. And then he fell off the pole,” Foglia said. “The moment before he fell off the pole, that’s when I made a picture.”
By the way, no one got hurt, Foglia said, including coyotes.
In short, Foglia describes his process like this: “Out of friendships come situations. In response to those situations, I make photographs. Even when they’re posed or planned, I wait for a moment where something real is happening.”
Many Western ranchers find themselves at a crossroads as they fight off tempting economic incentives from the mining industry. As mining companies offer big money to buy ranches which have belonged to families for generations, the economic pressures make ranching more difficult.
“It’s hard because it’s a 24/7 job,” said Foglia, who rolled up his sleeves during this project and worked alongside ranchers. “You always have to be tending to crops or livestock, and they’re susceptible to weather, like an early frost or a drought on a crop of hay or herd of cattle. It’s unpredictable.”
Mining booms have been a salvation for some folks, like a former beautician Foglia met named Alice Hanauska. Driving a truck for a mining company has allowed the single mom to earn more money than she’s ever made in her life. Better benefits, too.
“For her, that job was in some ways a salvation from a difficult economic position in the midst of a global economic recession,” Foglia said.
But eventually, the ore will run out — or suffer a price plunge. Then it all may come crashing down.
“Any mine will eventually be depleted. Mines close and take jobs away with them. The land is left scarred. This is a region of America that has an economy that is in large part based on mining.” Foglia said. “For me, that’s scary.”
But the book transcends mining, ranching or even America’s West. It speaks to residents in more populated areas that are threatened by suburban sprawl. Even in Foglia’s native Long Island, developers are knocking on the door at his parents’ family farm — one of the last in the area.
The theme is applicable to anyone holding property on the edge of a town with dynamic suburban development.
“I hope that the photographs in my book provoke people to ask questions,” Foglia said. “I also hope they leave space for people to find their own answers.”
Foglia’s “Frontcountry” photos will be on exhibit at Fredericks & Freiser Gallery in New York from March 20 to April 19, at Michael Hoppen Contemporary in London from March 27 to May 10, and at Robischon Gallery in Denver from September 18 to November 1.
By David Rosenberg
When photographer Lucas Foglia traveled to Wyoming to visit a close friend, he was struck by how large the land seemed as a backdrop against the small and close-knit community of people who lived there.
Beginning in 2006, he traveled and photographed people living during a mining boom in Wyoming as well as rural Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas—“some of the least populated regions in the United States,” he noted—for what would become Frontcountry, a recently published book from Nazraeli Press.
Foglia previously received attention for A Natural Order, which documented people living off the grid. For Frontcountry, he photographed people he met through friends and friends of friends living in his areas of focus; their jobs, lifestyles, and conversations formed the narrative of the book. “Because I was introduced to them by people they trusted, they trusted me,” Foglia said, adding: “In the communities I visited, the two main industries were ranching and mining. What drew me to photograph was the idea that these two very different lifestyles share and depend on the same landscape.”
The mining boom in the American West is as broad as the landscape and includes coal, gold, copper, oil, and natural gas. Documenting a project on this scale was ambitious: Foglia shot more than 60,000 images during the six years he spent working on the project and edited those down to 60. The book, he said, “begins with images of cowboys and gradually shows the encroachment of mining companies.” He began editing the book in 2012 then went back to the communities for another year, until he said he “made photographs that felt like they completed the narrative.”
Foglia said he spends time and collaborates with the people he photographs but prefers to work without boundaries, choosing instead to adapt to events happening around him. For example, the image of Tommy trying to shoot coyotes from the top of a fence pole came at the suggestion of some of Foglia’s subjects. Other images were more of a surprise. “For example, I traveled with two Peruvian sheep herders, Oscar and Wilson, as they trailed sheep across the high desert in Wyoming,” Foglia said. “The photograph I included in the book is of their dogs mating when they were supposed to be guarding sheep.”
Although Foglia said many of the communities where he shot were small, their connectedness to the global economy was remarkable to him. “In Nevada, whole towns are built or abandoned based on fluctuations in the price of gold,” he said. The introductory essay in the book, written by Olan Clifford Teel, a Nevada rancher who lives next to a gold mine, touched on this: “Cowboys are still the symbol of the American West. We’re famous, but it’s damn hard to make a living raising cattle,” Olan said. He also noted that although the mining industry is booming, booms end and companies leave, taking jobs away with them.
Photographs from the book will be on exhibit at Fredericks & Freiser Gallery in New York from March 20 to April 19 and at Michael Hoppen Contemporary in London from March 27 to May 10.
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.
Between 2006 and 2013, Lucas Foglia traveled throughout rural Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming, some of the least populated regions in the United States. Frontcountry is a photographic account of people living in the midst of a boom in mining and energy development that is transforming the modern American West.