Bryan Schutmaat, Tonopah, Nevada, 2012

Bryan Schutmaat (1983 – ), Tonopah, Nevada, 2012, archival digital print. Middlebury College Museum of Art.

Bryan Schutmaat’s Tonopah, Nevada is from his Grays the Mountain Sends, a series of photographs exploring small mountain towns and mining communities of the West. While many of the images are portraits of the men who live and work there, the landscapes in the series document the effects of mineral extraction. Initially drawn to the mythic qualities of the American West, Schutmaat eventually settled on mining as a key to understanding the complex relationship between people and the land.

As the artist notes, “More broadly, mining worked well for me because of its historic significance and what it means symbolically to the broader narrative of the project. This plays out in a myriad of ways, but there’s something to be said about the fact that the first white men to ever set foot in the American West were out there in search of precious metal. This has been echoed century after century, through following eras and into Manifest Destiny, as the patriarchs of the West slowly transformed wilderness so they could literally extract riches from the land by brute force. That says a lot and definitely ripples into the present-day West.”1