Critics have described Lucas Foglia's photography as 'highly lyrical' and 'durably memorable'. Solo exhibitions in London, New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan and Kyoto are a testament to his work's popularity. I spoke to Lucas about the 'knockout' stories in his Frontcountry project.
Foglia was raised on his family's farm in New York's Long Island. He describes his mother as a 'folklorist, a storyteller.' Aged 18, he met Arnold Newman and realised he too could take pictures for a living. These influences have produced a vivid visual storyteller whose work has drawn comparisons with Alec Soth and William Eggleston.
Frontcountry is a book of 60 photographs taken by Foglia over 6 years from 2006. Just 0.1% of the pictures taken during that time made it into the book, described by the New Yorker as 'arresting'. In it, Foglia documents the 2 vastly different lifestyles – ranching and mining – surviving way out in the American West.
I asked Lucas about the project and what makes his storytelling so utterly compelling.
Lucas, you've said about your work: 'Most of the people I photograph are friends, or they become friends. Because I was introduced to them by people they trusted, they trusted me.' How did that happen with Frontcountry? Is there a period where you're building relationships and trust before shooting?
I always come in with my camera, ready to photograph. It feels honest that way. When a close friend, Addie Goss, moved to Wyoming to work at the public radio station there, I went to visit.
The landscape was bigger and harsher than any place I had ever been. Driving in November, I looked to the right and there was a blue sky arching over millions of acres of snow covered sagebrush. I looked ahead of me and saw a stormcloud. "I could disappear here," I thought as I drove into a snowstorm and skidded my car off the icy road. I didn't have cell phone reception. Luckily within a few minutes a pickup truck drove by, stopped and pulled my car back onto the road. I realized that the land was big and, because it was big, the small communities were tightly knit. Introductions from friends went a long way.
I only print the photographs that leave me asking questions, and make me want to look at them longer.
Amanda after a Birthday Party, Jackson, Wyoming 2010
Roger Weightlifting, Jonah Natural Gas Field, Boulder, Wyoming 2010
Visiting, leaving and returning to people and places over a 6 year period, you must've seen and heard hundreds of stories. Did any leave a particularly lasting impression on you?
Oh, more than I can count! For instance, I met George in Diamond Valley, Nevada. George raised cattle for most of his life. In his retirement he enjoys chasing forest fires. We drove on dirt roads with dust coming up through the floor of his truck, and then stopped at the hill with the fire burning on the other side. He told me very confidently that he had safety provisions. And I asked, "What safety provisions?" And he said: "I have two bottles of water, a Coke, a candy bar, a shovel, and a handgun." In the photograph, the fire cloud arcs over both of us.
My favourite photographs compel viewers to create their own stories, provoking both their interest and their fantasy.
George Chasing Wildfires, Eureka, Nevada 2012
Are you conscious of having an audience for your work? Are your subjects your audience? If so, does that influence the work?
I only print the photographs that leave me asking questions, and make me want to look at them longer. I show the prints to friends first, then my publisher, galleries, editors. As far as audiences, I bring copies back to the communities I photograph, publish the images in books and magazines, and make editioned prints for exhibitions. Each audience uses the images differently. The book is my best attempt at a complete idea.
Coal Storage, TS Power Plant, Newmont Mining Corporation, Dunphy, Nevada 2012
Dakota, Michael, and Jesse, Bronc Riders, Eureka County Fair, Eureka, Nevada 2012
What, in your work, do you think people connect with? About your pictures, the New Yorker said: 'Their meaning is illusive; their beauty is plain as day.' Do you think this sense of mystery plays a part?
Photography, for me, is a reason to be somewhere, a way of getting to know people and places. My favourite photographs compel viewers to create their own stories, provoking both their interest and their fantasy.
I always come in with my camera, ready to photograph. It feels honest that way.
Soccer Practice, Star Valley Braves, Afton, Wyoming 2010
Tommy Trying to Shoot Coyotes, Big Springs Ranch, Oasis, Nevada 2012
Finally, what can you tell us about Jennifer from Montpelier, Idaho? That's one of my favourite shots.
Jennifer was the niece of a ranching family with whom I stayed. That day it was bitter cold, snowing off and on. The family brought me to go ice-fishing at the reservoir. Jennifer's cousin threw her in the snow, and she stayed there, making the strangest snow angel I had ever seen.
Jennifer, Montpelier Reservoir, Montpelier, Idaho 2011
Find out more about Frontcountry and Lucas Foglia's work at his website www.lucasfoglia.com
The Seven Pillars of Storytelling
Audiences are tired of facts and figures. But stories? We’re hardwired to see stories as a gift.
Download your free ebook and become a master storyteller.