I liked the work of Bryan Schutmaat mainly due to my own interest in the American West. I like how the work explores this region through a poetic lens, taking a look at its inhabitants in intimate portraits. I also find it intriguing that through the subject matter alone as well as the way many photos are composed and edited that the series does not romanticize the American West.
I find this interesting because as the photographer mentioned in the linked interview, many perceptions of the West are falsely created through 19th and 20th century photographs, films or paintings that present the West as a region of promise, glory and exploration. This also has a political component of manifest destiny, since many of the original inhabitants of the region were driven through what is essentially propaganda and expanding the realm and influence of the United States.
That’s why I was initially hesitant to embrace the work fo Schutmaat when he admitted that he steered clear of political tie-ins with this project, because I think it’s the obligation of any good photographer to document the full picture of something, even if that includes subliminal messaging, but I think the removal of a political component shows how he finds appreciation in the West in its purest form, where the focus is on the interactions between the people, buildings and landscapes in the present moment and nothing else. I hope to capture that purity through my work as well and try hard to find meaning in the poetics of the image alone rather than the political, social or cultural meaning behind it.
Linked are 5 photos from a project similar to Schutmaat’s, which were taken by Richard Avedon in 1979 and also focus on the purity of capturing people as they are in the present moment.