It began with this book . . . .
and these photographs from the book, in particular the rather stunning one of the neatly-made bed with the framed bucolic landscape over the headboard. Came the questions: the things you leave behind mean something — what do they mean, and what do you mean ?
Historian Patricia Nelson Limerick, in “Haunted by Rhyolite: Learning from the Landscape of Failure,” wrote of the settling of the American West:
Growth, advancement, and construction are certainly part of the region’s history, but so are contraction, retreat, and abandonment.
Rhyolite stands as physical evidence of the fact that the West was a place where pioneers met the forces of urbanization and industrialization head-on, not a place where innocents and individualists escaped those unsettling forces.
Throwing down the gauntlet:
In assigning a chronological deadline for western expansion, Frederick Jackson Turner was off by a century. Before the idea of a watershed in western American history could make any sense, we had to spend another century running through boom-bust cycles in agriculture, ranching, logging, and mining. We had to reach a point where water, in an arid and semiarid region, is stretched just about as far as it will go . . . . we had to accumulate ruins, inarguable physical evidence that testifies to the mixed outcomes of western expansion.
The ruins of Ryolite are stark, concrete forms, dry like the desert, slowly crumbling into dust. They are not romantic, or sympathetic, or magical. Neither are Steve Fitch’s abandoned interiors. What does it mean that a half-built house and an abandoned house will meet somewhere along a timeline, where they are indistinguishable from each other?