Recent Work: Fallen Camps, Standing Rock
As the weather turned towards winter, many who had come to Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock were ill prepared. The camp was littered with abandoned encampments, summer and three season tents becoming overtaken by the cold and the snow.
Some people in camp questioned my taking these photographs, concerned that images of abandoned encampments would cast the camp itself in a negative light. I thought though that it would be important for anyone contemplating a pilgrimage to Standing Rock to have a clear image of the hardship and severity of the winter conditions awaiting them there. For those who would never actually go these images could provide a glimpse into the hardship being endured and the commitment it took to remain there,resolute in protecting the water and fighting the pipeline. And honestly? I found them haunting. They were disturbing and beautiful. Both a stark visual omen of catastrophic disaster and a physical manifestation of the resolve and commitment of those who yet remained. I continued to photograph them through out my time there.
Sometimes they seemed to me to be like exoskeletons. An external skeleton that supports and protects an animals body, only these had been broken and could no longer protect the bodies that had been sheltering inside them. Now they littered the camp lying crippled among the teepees,yurts and other structures in the congested areas, or crumpled alone on the outskirts and edges of the camp. Always the question of what became of the people who had been dwelling within hung over the broken tents skeletal remains.
It was eerie walking through the camp and seeing them scattered about. Like open graves or bodies left where they had fallen, they seemed to have been left behind as an omen. Gradually breaking down under the pounding wind and slowly, steadily being overtaken by the snow, becoming a frozen abstraction on the landscape. A vivid reminder of the gravity, harshness and danger of a North Dakota winter. A winter that those who had chosen to remain in camp were now staring down.
On December 6th 2016 as the camp was hunkered down in the middle of a vicious blizzard a video update from the medic group within the camp was posted on Facebook. While describing the conditions and the work of the medics during the blizzard the narrator noted "There have been no confirmed deaths in camp at this time." And I thought of those tents...