Like the sun-baked buildings that dot the desert landscape, the inhabitants of Globe and Miami, Arizona, survive gracefully, showing their age. The two cities live next to each other huddled in the hills. The heat that punishes Phoenix spares the high desert. In the Hill Country of Central Arizona, residents find themselves at a crossroads between national trends and their desire to control and define their community. Taken during the summer of 1995 (except for fourth photo), these photographs reveal an America still rural and conservative.
This area came into existence when the San Carlos Apache Nation ceded valuable portions of its reservation to powerful mining interests. Crushed, fired, and processed, the copper extracted from the red and green rock created wealth for multinational corporations for more than a hundred years. The white sticky powder heaped high along the highway is part of the region’s legacy. Arizona's Cobre (Copper) Valley would be a mecca for tourists, except for its scarred hills.
My photographs evoke nostalgia for Americana, remnants of American culture you still find scattered in remote and untouched parts of our country. When I first came to Globe, I was struck by the night’s eerie silence. There were no sirens or gunfire from the barrio to waken me.
The stars sparkled brightly, the air smelled clean, and, like the 50s in California, you could purchase leaded gas because no smog regulations existed. With so few people in such a large area, pollution laws were lax. Los Angelenos can be envious of some things in the Cobre Valley.
During the process of taking these photographs, I recalled my youth in San José, California. I remembered fondly how San José once had a downtown with small friendly theaters, department stores, and a sense of community. I remembered when prune orchards lined Main Street and Intel, Apple, and Silicon Graphics were fantasy. Everything changed with the invention of the integrated circuit. Then, San José was radically and forever transformed into Silicon Valley, the center of high technology. My hometown now extols the values of a vacuous, corporate culture. Fruit orchards have been bulldozed for bland warehouses and suburban strip malls.
Even though my hometown has evolved into a big city, I find solace knowing that small communities like Globe and Miami remain the same. My images of these places document not only the environment, but also its beauty. I constructed them by abstracting the details, purposefully isolating a single element and disassociating it from the larger context to produce new meanings.
Additionally, I focused on the texture of buildings, emphasizing the elements of the photograph that translate into subtle but essential tonal values. I rejoice in photographing sun-baked buildings with peeling paint; they give evidence to history's passing.
The faded coffee shop sign and Gibson's Clothing Store remind me of a bygone era, before the new Wal-Mart took away their customers. My work documents a precarious rural America whose sites have become curios immortalized on photographic paper, their significance increasing with every new mall erected in Seattle, Austin, and Cleveland. This vanishing America gains value by remaining the same.
Jesús Manuel Mena Garza