Huge skies, rearing horses, jail cells and men in hats: at first glance all the mythic elements of the American West are present in Lucas Foglia’s photographs. Taken over several years in the vast, sparsely populated states of Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming, they hint at ways of life unchanged in a century or more: simple, noble, perhaps a little naïve. But all is not what it seems. In fact, these are communities in terrible flux, riven by a struggle between the past and the future, as a giant business machine tears apart the landscape in mines and power plants.
Foglia’s great achievement as a photographer is to suggest these tensions as much by composition as by subject matter. A huge bearded man arcs backwards as he trains with weights, his shape echoed by the arch of the plastic shed he’s standing in. A coyote hunter balances precariously on a fence post, rifle in hand. A rodeo rider stretches a hamstring in a posture of mourning.
Elsewhere there are nods to William Eggleston in the plastic primness of a bank loan office, and a high-school football game against a backdrop of towering peaks. And there is war: it’s never explicit, but it’s there in the bleak valleys and the billowing smoke from wildfires, even in a grimy digger toiling up a mountain of coal towards a strange, turret-like chimney. While this isn’t war photography per se, these are the people, Foglia seems to be saying, caught up on the US home front, a place as pitiless in its way as any in the Wild West or the Middle East.