I grew up in two very distinct areas of Idaho: the scenic area of Stanley Basin — which sits at the base of the Sawtooth Mountain Range — and the town of Idaho Falls, a community that revolves around agriculture, religion and nuclear research. Living in these two regions gave me the perspective to appreciate the delicate balance of the scenic and the mundane and recognize how they overlap one another.
I am exploring in this work the way communities and individuals stake claims on the picturesque landscape and place it within the conventional structures of the community. By making photographs of these claimed territories, I am staking my own claim to my heritage, the western landscape.
The manner in which we depict this scenery has become the identity and perception of the American West, symbolized by wilderness, mountain peaks, crystal clear rivers, and big game animals. Growing up in the West, I remember the murals that decorated many of the buildings in the region. Over the years, the murals have become less frequent, a tradition of public art that has been painted over with white paint or the building itself torn down.
Today the painted murals that still exist are in locations utilized primarily by the working-class — bars, convenience stores, cafes, apartment buildings, used-car dealerships, garages, and junkyards. I would assume that for those who frequent these establishments, the murals have come to represent a landscape of their heritage or one they dreamed to be more a part of.
Ownership of the scenic landscape has changed over the years, from the modest Homesteaders who attempted (often unsuccessfully) to harness the land, to those with the financial means to own vacation property. 63% of the land in Idaho is considered "public land", owned by the Federal Government. 39% of that public land belongs to the United States Forest Service. This land at one time was open to "claim" by the Homesteading Act, but proved too difficult to cultivate. In 1976, when the Homestead Act was dissolved, it was decided the unclaimed land should remain in the hands of the government.
One would assume with so much public land available, access would be easy. Unfortunately much of the public land is surrounded by private land, accessible only to those who can afford to buy the view. Those without the ownership of wealth admire the landscape from a distance. Many of the territories painted in the murals represent a view once accessible to all, that today is beyond most locals' means.
The murals capture the nostalgia for what once was, a Western landscape that was part of the grand package of the Western American dream.
—— Alexis Pike was chosen as an Honorable Mention in the 2009 Lens Culture International Exposure Awards.