Gone: Photographs of Abandoment on the High Plains
February 1, 2005 – April 10, 2005
“Gone: Photographs of Abandonment on the High Plains,” was an exhibition on display from February 1 through April 10, featured a series of haunting photographs by New Mexico photographer Steve Fitch. Fitch’s images show public buildings, but most are of abandoned homes left standing on the High Plains of Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. Focusing mainly on interiors, Fitch records the decay of places left behind by people who once inhabited the land. Abandoned homes, schoolhouses, and personal possessions left behind provide a glimpse into a world that no longer exists: peeling wallpaper, a coffee cup, a child’s drawing, a television set, a half-drunk bottle of beer in a bar.
Through his photography Fitch pays homage to the passage of time as well as the deterioration of a once vibrant society. With the promise of more land and economic growth, the Homestead Act and promotional activities of various railroad companies initially attracted settlers and farmers to the semi-arid high plains in the 19th century. “[T]hese new inhabitants began to abandon the plains from the very moment they began to settle them,” the artist writes in a statement about his work. During the Dust Bowl and Great Depression people were forced to leave these regions in search of other financial opportunities in more populous areas of the country. Today, the population of much of the Rural High Plains continues to decline.
Fitch continues: “Left behind are the shells of their former lives: houses on farms and in towns, schools, churches, bars, honky tonks, and dance halls…. Scattered across the plains these interior spaces exist like countless individual ‘museums’ dotting the landscape and are the most private part of the landscape. However, the ‘exhibits’ inside are not frozen in time but instead in a state of constant change. Like crime scene photographs, these pictures are loaded with the evidence of innumerable past events which accumulates over time to shape a detailed scene that I discover and photograph.”
Fitch teaches photography at the Marion Center for Photographic Arts at the College of Santa Fe. Gone: Photographs of Abandonment on the High Plains was organized by the University of New Mexico Art Museum and is accompanied by a monograph published by the University of New Mexico Press. UMB Bank, n.a. is sponsoring the exhibition at the Beach Museum of Art.