Three years ago, I was leaving for the airport after saying goodbye to my mother. She was dying of cancer. On the long drive across the Alberta prairie, I found myself distracted by flapping remnants of plastic bags caught in the barbed-wire fences that lined the ditches. Whipped violently by the wind, they were left shredded and lacerated, but trapped nonetheless in the no-man’s land of boundary fences—neither here nor there. Thinking about mortality, pain and death in the context of my mother’s terminal illness, these forgotten shreds of plastic took on a deeper significance. Snag.

Shooting during the seemingly lifeless season between winter and spring in 2015 and 2016, I photographed fifty-seven sites in Southern Alberta, Canada. Some locations required multiple visits to ensure optimal lighting and wind conditions. All the photographs were shot using analogue film on a medium-format camera.

Given the focus of the subject matter on physical, material processes of decomposition by natural forces, it was critical to the logic of this series that I maintain the immediacy of their chemical, indexical imprint on the film. Its translation onto a slightly warm-toned, fiber-based photo paper creates a material, substantial presence that would have been impossible to achieve digitally.

—Wes Bell

Bell’s series was chosen as a Juror’s Pick by MaryAnne Golon, Director of Photography at the Washington Post, in the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2017. After the award, the series was published by the Washington Post. Don’t miss the work from all 44 of the outstanding, international talents from our Exposure Awards!

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like these previous features: The White Man’s Hole, a series on life in the remote Australian outback; Namikake, dream-like images of the shifting Japanese landscape; and Instar, a project full of otherworldly images that explores the strange desert wilderness in Arizona.