Once Upon A Time in The West


Once Upon a Time in the West combines photographs made in Tucumcari, New Mexico, the Almeria region of Spain, and in locations across Germany. When brought together, these three projects form a trilogy that explores the tension between the Western United States and the West that has been mythologized in European imagination.

In 2010 I completed a three-year project documenting Tucumcari, NM. The small town provided a place for me to explore ideas about the American West as well as consider the effects of the largest economic downturn in the country since the Great Depression.

Shortly thereafter, a friend mentioned that Tucumcari had been the location for one of Sergio Leone’s films in his famous ‘Dollar’ trilogy. In the opening scene of “For a Few Dollars More” (1965) the protagonist sits in a train crossing a barren landscape en route to Tucumcari. The portrayed location is meant to be the small town in New Mexico, but is in fact a train station in the Almeria desert in southern Spain. This would point me towards my next project. In Spain, I first directed my attention to three cinema studios that remain in the desert. In addition to photographing these studios with their façade frontier towns and cowboy actors performing for tourists, I went beyond the sets and into the bars and brothels to make photographs that are evocative of a modern day western.

The sequel to this Western trilogy is set in Germany where “Indianer(s)” reenact Native American dress and customs and performers stage large theatrical productions of Western stories from the German popular fiction writer Karl May (1842–1912). May had seen Buffalo’s Bill’s Wild West show in Dresden and thereafter fashioned himself after the famous frontiersman, complete with a fringed buckskin jacket and wide-brimmed hat. He wrote adventure novels set in the old American West that he claimed were from first-hand experiences. Today these stories are told in open-air re-enactments reminiscent of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. 

The three projects exist as separate works, but when brought together, the photographs create a landscape where fact and fantasy merge and where specific locations become hard to pinpoint. Once Upon A Time in The West explores the tension between the actual West and the imagined West.