Photographer Bryan Schutmaat travelled to the American West, to meet the mining communities that live there. With Grays the Mountain Sends, he created a poignant, lyrical and disillusioned fiction.

Texas-based photographer Bryan Schutmaat defines himself as a wanderer. He travels from territory to territory, seeking inspiration, and develops his ideas by getting to know the places and the people inhabiting them. His series Grays the Mountain Sends is rooted in the American West. “I have always been interested in this place. I had already started projects about this territory, but they were only of landscapes, the photographer tells us. When I went to those small Western communities, I saw young people of my age, and wondered about their lives”. 

Though Bryan Schutmaat was first charmed by the landscapes’ beauty, and the territory’s complex history, the encounters with the people of the region tarnished this idyllic vision. “I started taking portraits, to interact with them, and get familiar with their environment. This was the genesis of Grays the Mountain Sends, the artist says.

A more glorious past

“In 2010, I discovered the poem Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg, by Richard Hugo. A text narrated by a man who came from an old mining town. When you read it, it seems as though the author blames the present for not living up to the past”, Bryan Schutmaat explains. The poet’s words overwhelmed him and transformed his photographs. In the artist’s portraits, their gazes are weary, nostalgic. They all seem to regret the world that had once been. “There a disparity between what used to be and what is now. I studied the remains of the Manifest Destiny, and of the myth of the American West”, the photographer explains.

The series builds a melancholic narrative, nurtured by the beauty of the wilderness, and the sadness of numerous portraits. A universe at the borders of fiction. “The photographic process does not capture reality, it erases realistic elements”, Bryan Schutmaat notes. Through the eyes of the mining town’s people, Grays highlights an “individualistic, masculine world, shaped by the ideology of the Far West”. On the pictures, animals – eagles, horses, buffaloes, or even wolves – evoke a more glorious past. Between lyricism and disillusion, the photographer depicts a lonely community, stuck between two eras.

© Bryan Schutmaat