When he travelled to the American West for the first time, German photographer Joachim Hildebrand discovered a territory much different from the one he had in mind. Wild West captures the modern identity of the Far West, a region shaped by the conquests of the past.

Joachim Hildebrand has been fascinated by photography and the liberty that comes with it ever since he was a teenager. “The camera allowed me to see the world in a way the bare eye was not able to”, the photographer explains. “With a camera I could cut things from the world, arrange them in a frame to create something new” Joachim focuses on the interventions of man in the landscape, “but it’s not the spectacular that I am after, rather the commonplace”, he adds. He documents places in which people live. “People transform their environment but at the same time they are also transformed by it”, the photographer says. “By looking closely at urban structures, at architecture and its relation to nature, one can learn many things about societies without actually photographing anyone”.

In Wild West, Joachim presents a uniform universe, deserted by this society. Yet, the well composed images all bear traces of human life. The conquest of the West is truly over, and the landscape spreading across the pages of the book is urbanised, tamed by mankind. An almost surrealist setting. “However, I don´t stage my photos”, Joachim confides. “ That way, images are rooted into my reality. To me, the challenge is to use my perception of such reality to create pictures that transcend it”.

The American West fantasy

Joachim was already an adult the first time he travelled to the American West. In his imagination, the territory resembled that of the Frontier, a place where cowboys and Indians shared the great and green plains. “I knew there would be a significant difference between my imagination and present-day reality”, the photographer tells us. “But finding out that the archetypes of the American West have become mere platitudes was more than I anticipated”. Surprised, he captured a landscape much different from the one he used to dream about. “If you want to tell the story of a society, you must look at man-made landscapes, and not arid panoramas”, he adds. The narration of his Wild West started there, in an industrialised world, in which nature no longer evolved freely, replaced by urban landscapes. By giving his book this title, Joachim played with our collective imagination. He mixed shared fantasy with the real world. Canyons, mountains and horse rides blended with the modern and peaceful architecture of today. “The myths of the Wild West and the frontier are of great importance for the self-understanding of the USA and I guess my book tells something about today´s state of the country”, the photographer concludes.

© Joachim Hildebrand

Wild West, Éditions Kehrer, 39,90 €, 128 p.