By David Rosenberg
How complex is the simple life?
Beginning in 2006, photographer Lucas Foglia spent four years photographing people who chose to reject modern urban living, opting instead for an “off the grid” lifestyle in rural communities around the southeastern United States. Foglia turned the series, A Natural Order, into a book, published earlier this year by Nazraeli Press.
Foglia found the reasons that many of the subjects in the book left their city or suburban lifestyles to be varied
“Many of the people were motivated by environmental concerns; others were driven by religious beliefs or predictions of economic collapse,” Foglia said. While his subjects didn’t all have the same politics or motivations, what they did have in common was how they often constructed their lives. “They chose to build their homes from local materials; obtain their water from nearby springs; and hunt, gather, or grow their own food.”
Foglia wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the idea of letting go of modern conveniences. He grew up on a farm in the suburbs of Long Island. His childhood house was close enough to shopping malls and supermarkets, but his family incorporated many time-honored methods of sustainable living such as heating the house with wood, canning food harvested on the family farm, and bartering plants for necessities such as shoes and dental work.
“Going to visit the families that I photographed, I found the experiences to be more comfortable than a ‘city person’ might expect,” explained Foglia. “That being said, living off the grid in the woods can be isolating, and growing enough food to feed a family takes a lot of work.” Perhaps that is one reason some of the people Foglia photographed lived in organized communities including Russell Creek Community in Tennessee, Twin Oaks Intentional Community in Virginia, and Wildroots Homestead in North Carolina. Other people purchased land of their own and lived independently.
“People have moved back to the land … because land is affordable and arable,” began Foglia. “Because a well-chosen plot will likely have a freshwater spring on it, and because the libertarian philosophy that is ubiquitous in the region gives a person, family or community the freedom to live how they choose.”
Foglia mentioned that living off the grid isn’t an all-or-nothing venture.
“Many (of the subjects) have websites that they update using laptop computers and cellphones that they charge on car batteries or solar panels. They do not wholly reject the modern world. Instead, they step away from it and choose the parts that they want to bring with them.”
So will A Natural Order inspire others to try a new lifestyle?
Building a life like this isn’t for everyone, his subjects recognize, but they do see what their way of life can teach others. One of the women Foglia met, Talia, who lives at Wildroots Homestead in North Carolina, noted the difficulty in completely leaving behind an established life but said there are parts of an off-the-grid lifestyle that could be incorporated elsewhere.
“Over the years I’ve come to realize that most people are not going to, nor do they have any desire to, radically change their lives. Most people can’t walk away from the kids’ schools or their jobs or their mortgages, or whatever. They just can’t, and it would be asking too much for them to do it. But they can take some steps in just teaching themselves—learning more about gardening, learning more about food preservation, and taking care of their own health. So there are things people can do to become a little more self-sufficient … if there’s any hope at all of being able to transition into a less chaotic life.”