Photographer Susan Goldstein is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this photo essay.  From the project ‘The New American West | 1990 – Present’.  To see Susan’s body of work, click on any image.

 

I had already passed the highway exit when I saw this oddly elevated church and knew I had to return. I drove to the next exit and returned to a mysterious place named The Center of the Universe. A church had been built on top of a man-made raised platform of land. I was alone with the exception of one man working on the stairs to the church. He was unable to answer my questions.

 

Old highways passing through areas not served by interstate highways are my preferred way to find images for this series. I was able to photograph this boarded up building, old barracks in a small Wyoming town before a thunderstorm began.

 

I was lying in the sand along an Interstate in California shooting film when a State Trooper pulled over and demanded I leave. Luckily, I had captured “the” picture in this frame, one of 5 shots taken before I was forced to leave. I thought I had my shot but did not know until I developed the film.

 

The “American West” is a combination of myth and reality. In the early 21st Century this vast expanse of land remains much as it was centuries ago, but signs of human presence are pervasive.  Remnants of the old west still exist in the form of old motel signs, cowboys, Indians and trading posts that all allude to an era long gone. Today many of these cultural icons are informed by newer changes to the landscape.

 

This old one room schoolhouse in rural Colorado was built in 1889 and operated until 1933.

 

The West is marked by man in subtle and not so subtle ways. Humans show our presence even in our absence.  We impact the land and in turn impact the landscape of our own psyches. High voltage electric transmission lines march into the empty distance, silent, unless one stands under them and hears the crackling of the electricity traveling from one place to another. Armies of trucks transport goods across the country, rolling over countless miles of highways. The arrows implanted in the earth along old Route 66 have fallen short of their target, which was once the pony express, but now Federal Express.

 

A solitary road trip through part of California showed me many examples of relentless development. These palm trees had been cut to clear land for a housing project.

 

This predominantly “empty” land is filled with a treasure trove of visual hints about our past and present.  My solitary journey over nearly 30 years seeking these images has often taken me far off the beaten path and led to a variety of unexpected surprises captured in the nearly 100 photographs in this body of work.

 

 

An abandoned house near Gunnison, CO was still standing in 2020, but the chrome horse was gone.

 

Arizona: I captured this cafe in the late afternoon sun.

 

The bed was too soft for me, so I did not rent a room in a tee pee at this unusual motel in Holbrook, Arizona.

 

The log on the eroding butte in the Painted Desert in Arizona is a piece of petrified wood…most likely put there by humans.

 

Images from The New American West are in numerous private collections and in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, Joaquim Paiva Collection, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil SA, The Crawford Hotel, Union Station, Denver, CO and The Colorado Photographic Arts Center, Denver, CO.

 

All images and text © Susan Goldstein

 

 

See also:

UNDERCURRENTS

By Susan Goldstein

 

 

 

 

 

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