Twenty years ago Ulf Hannerz noted that life in what many had begun calling our "global village" was actually "not much like" life in a village at all. More recently, Harvey Cox has put it more bluntly, "We live in a world city and we live there badly." In 100 Years 100 Ranchers, currently on display at the Phoenix Airport Museum (one of the largest airport museums in the nation) Phoenix-based photographer Scott Baxter shows us that wide-open spaces still exist, and that communities of people who still live village lives inhabit many of these spaces. Baxter’s photographs shows generations of ranchers who know and depend on one another, living in close connection with the earth and the livestock they depend upon for survival. Baxter spent more than a decade traveling to and forming relationships with people from 100 families that have been ranching in Arizona for 100 years or more. Opening their homes to him, they shared their lives and their unique stories. Photographed with a large-format camera, Baxter's portraits place the people before the timeless landscapes that have shaped the lives of their families for generations.
Like Edward S. Curtis' photographs of Native American peoples, Baxter too documents a way of life that is in danger of vanishing as we enter the first decades of a new century. Although it is tempting to romanticize these powerful images, the land we now call Arizona has always been a hazardous place. Its history is violent and complicated, and the ranchers who have worked this land, Native American, Mexican, and American are all survivors.
Baxter's compelling images should cause us to reflect on the complex stories of real people who have managed to survive in a transcendent yet dangerous land. Through the deep and powerful contrast of his black and white images, Baxter shows us the wild, timeless places that still exist while reminding us that the voices of ranchers like Joe Manterola, Minnie Griffin, Joe Baird and Teri Kline can still be heard if one chooses to look and listen.
Grant Miller is a contributing writer for Don't Take Pictures. He recently completed a PhD in Intercultural Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.
100 Years 100 Ranchers is currently on view at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.