April 18, 2012


"Kid in Burwell, Nebraska" - GO WEST

Above is the scene from John Ford's "My Darling Clementine". This scene inspired me to get a backdrop painted and hit the road to photograph my GO WEST series (1995-2002). http://jeanlaughton.com/html/gowest/index.html

I didn't watch many Westerns but the fabricated reality of this scene and so many from silent movies lit a spark. I wanted to head West and document real people in their western 'costumes' of sort. To pull them out of their current reality into a constructed one. So I left my then home of New York City, starting in 1995, for several summers and meandered about the West in my Bronco loaded with backdrops and my beat up $75 4x5 camera - stopping at selected rodeos and events. To me, this was like walking onto a movie studio back lot with characters straight out of Central Casting - but with the twist of naturally occurring authenticity. This was the beginning of several years of experiences that would eventually lead me to my current ten year ranching adventure. What started as photographing the myth with this series lead to me actually inhabiting it with MY RANCHING LIFE series - stepping into a real life version of the backdrop scene and going beyond the role of spectator.

The GO WEST summers alone on the road were some of the best times - driving throughout the cinematic landscape of the West as an outsider with no ties, with a feeling of awe - watching a continuous ever changing 'drive-in movie' of the West through my windshield. They were such days of discovery for me and the first time I actually stopped someone to ask to take their portrait. Watching me set up my backdrop in the wind behind the scenes and go through the process of photographing each person with the 4x5 and talking at top speed was probably just as entertaining as the rodeo itself and I liken it to some sort of Buster Keaton silent movie scene from The Cameraman.  I mostly did one shot of the people I met in Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana. When I asked each person to step in front of my backdrop, it transformed into a miniature movie set and they became the leading actor from the countless legends of the true and imagined West of the past. Their look, stance or clothing evoked many a character from many a movie scene and made me aware of movie characters based on real life and real life based on movie characters and the blur between the two.

I realized that what started my thousands of miles driving throughout the West was a personal photography project, but that eventually morphed into me searching for something. As with many from the past, I headed West to transform my life - moving to the tiny Last Picture Show back lot of a movie set Badlands town of Interior, South Dakota and stepping into my current role.

©Jean Laughton