Lucas Foglia would be the first to admit that his photographs have a life of their own beyond their subjects. The San Francisco-based photographer has just opened his latest show, 'Frontcountry', at the Michael Hoppen Contemporary gallery, as well as a book of the same name published via the Nazraeli Press.
Frontcountry was seven years in the making, the result of many thousands of miles of travel and an immersive method of working, living and shooting in and amongst his subjects. Foglia's projects start off as an exploration of place, but he soon finds himself more motivated by the people he finds there. For Frontcountry, the photographer headed into the American heartlands of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Wyoming, big open landscapes where great national mythologies were forged and continue to inform our image of the land and the people.
Foglia approached this terrain with an open mind. His earlier project, 'A Natural Order', involved soaking up the culture and lifestyle of communities and individuals who have stepped off the grid, creating a set of bucolic images haunted by the deliberate absence of modern life. Frontcountry is rather different. 'There are not a lot of financial reasons to be a cowboy,' says Foglia, 'people do it because of the history and because of the lifestyle. Everyone I photograph is responding to a mythology and choosing a lifestyle based on that.'
Describing the 'front country' as that 'first row of houses when you're coming back into town from the country,' Foglia has spent seven years being around people in places where people are truly scarce. Ranches sprawl for hundreds of thousands of acres, and although every inch of the land is used in some way, the people who work on it are tough and thin on the ground. Money, what little there is of it, comes through the mines, great open wounds that are being torn up to scrape out copper and gold and other metals. It's a landscape of boom and bust, artificially inflated by mining investment, cataclysmically deflated when it leaves.
In the face of all this, Foglia has made some startling portraits. 'I build friendships that are in part based on the picture making,' he explains, 'for me it's all about collaboration - a number of pictures are of people performing for the camera.' He references the picture 'Tommy Trying to Shoot Coyotes, Big Springs Ranch, Oasis, Nevada' (2012). 'He was trying to show how he could shoot a coyote from on top of the fence pole. I took the photograph the moment before he fell off. With a loaded gun. So it's real. But it's also a performance.'
Our perception of small town America is largely informed by photographs and imagery and Foglia is under no illusions that he is adding to our preconceptions. But once the picture is taken, and the monograph printed or the show hung, he's happy for the next stage of its life to begin. Foglia's images of the mines themselves reveal their massive scale and the effect they have on the landscape, but still contain enough romance and heroism to make the mining company request a print for their HQ.
His portraits, meanwhile, make his subjects' lives look heroic but also leave the viewer in no doubt that these are tough and isolated people. 'I want my work to complicate mythology,' he says, 'each photograph is like a circus. It involves a performance and an audience.' Currently working on a new piece for an upcoming issue of McSweeney's, Foglia's photographs transcend straight documentary, and bring an impossible intimacy to places most of us see only in our mind.