In the land of my father
In 1848, my great-great grandfather Perfecto Telles settled in the Tularosa Valley of New Mexico. Another great-great grandfather, Cipio Salazar, removed the chains from Billy the Kid after he killed two sheriff's deputies in his famous breakout from the Lincoln County jail. A couple of generations later, in the summer of 1945, as my father waited for an early morning ride to his logging job in the Sacramento Mountains, he witnessed a massive glow in the sky emanating from the North, a glow that later proved to be light from the detonation of the first atomic bomb.
Despite this long familial history in the area, my father chose to leave New Mexico and create a new life in California. Through images and filmed oral histories, this series overlays moments from my family history with recollections of the racism and lack of economic opportunity that caused my father to pack his bags for the coast. It also examines the lives of family and friends who've stayed behind and the places they inhabit.
When I first heard of the oil boom taking place in North Dakota, my immediate thought was that here was an opportunity for me to travel back in time, to rub shoulders with the spirits of the Gold Rush era. In the oil fields collectively known as the Bakken, I saw my chance to experience - and document - first hand the clamor, the dust, the chaos, hard work and hopeful spirit that make up an American boom town.
In taking on this project, I decided against hewing to the environmentally focused approach that is common to oil drilling and fracking documentary themes. Instead, I opted to witness the movement of men, steel, trucks, dirt, water and oil so as to allow the story of the people and the place to unfold itself to me.
In so doing, what I found was a narrative far more nuanced than the dominant media portrayals of wanton environmental impact and Wild West gone amok. Instead, the air in the central town of Williston is abuzz with optimistic tales of birth and rebirth. Young men (and a few women) have departed from their forlorn hometowns to find meaningful work and create a financial foundation for their futures. Middle-aged men who’ve lost their jobs, homes and savings in the Great Recession take leave of their families to regain their place in the middle class. The American dream lives strong here.
Emanating from the scruffy military town of 29 Palms in the Mojave Desert, there lies an unheralded road that connects a unique mix of iconic, overlooked and discarded towns along its downhill path. Like an invisible river, this highway flows from the drug-ridden, working class towns of the mountainous desert down to the modernist mecca of Palm Springs, through the wealthy retirement communities of Rancho Mirage and then onto fading desert communities whose fortunes have dropped along with the water level of the neighboring Salton Sea, California's largest lake. Though this paved river runs only for 150 unsung miles, it offers a window into America that's no less insightful than any of the country's great natural waterways.
My intent with this work is to present the wide contrast of people, architecture, landscape, and wealth that lie along this desert roadway and to explore the boundaries where they both meet and separate.
Life of the Party
People find meaning and redemption in the most unusual human connections.
Nowhere is this desire to connect on greater and more unusual display than in a party setting where friends, strangers and alcohol intersect. Though my Life of the Party series abounds with bawdy displays of men drinking and women flirting, my intent with this series is to document how the need for personal connection manifests itself in the presence of lowered inhibition.
In pursuing moments that demonstrate connection, other emotions and motivations emerge as well. Desire for power, attention, intimacy, rebellion, self-expression, vulnerability and approval all reveal themselves to the camera. These transient moments also provide a window into the social lives and rituals of various American classes and subcultures.