My thesis project, Land/People, investigates the decline of family farming and the emotional and spiritual issues that underly the eroding human relationship to land, making larger, universal relationships visible through my family’s and my own experience.
The project combines panoramic and aerial images of my family’s farmland in eastern Montana with intimate photographs of family members and domestic spaces. Many of the images are visibly constructed, using multiple photographs with exposed seams and overlapping edges to create a sense of multiple perspectives or shifting truths. By using multiple photographs to create a single image, I suggest that no single view is adequate to capture the entirety of this vast landscape and the complex culture that depends on it. Each image can offer only a partial view, one piece of the larger picture. These formal elements also remind the viewer that these photographs are constructed – not transparent or objective, but carefully framed and presented by a particular person with a specific point of view.
The framing of these views reflects my personal experience as a woman who grew up on a multi-generational family farm and ranch owned and operated by men, developing a deep love and respect for the land while knowing that I would never inherit it. All of the photographs were taken on my family’s land over the last two years. It is my position as an insider to this culture that sets my work apart from other art about agriculture. By exploring a single farm and family in depth I intend to tell a complicated and specific story, one that reflects the changing nature of agriculture and critically questions its future. I am creating what may be the last images of a farm in slow decline. Photographs of equipment that no longer functions, homes that no longer house families, and two aging men doing all of the farm work tell the viewer that the farm’s heyday is past. There are no children in my photographs, because there is not a next generation interested in running the farm. The sorrow and grief in those images is contrasted with the magnificence of the sublime, high plains landscape. Vast and open, the prairie is not empty, but is instead what author William Least Heat-Moon calls, “a paradigm of infinity, a clearing full of many things except boundaries, and its power comes from its apparent limitlessness.”
The project has given me a unique opportunity to come to terms with my role within the family and my personal obligation to the farm. It has become an elegy for all that we are about to lose and a meaningful celebration of the place we have had the good fortune to call home.
Amanda Breitbach is a photographer and multi-media artist whose research focuses on the complex relationships between people and land. She grew up on a family farm and ranch in eastern Montana and recently completed her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Prior to attending graduate school, she was a agroforestry extension volunteer with the United States Peace Corps in West Africa and worked as a newspaper photographer and reporter. She is a graduate fellow at the Center for Great Plains Studies and has been an artist in residence at Cedar Point Biological Station and the Iowa Lakeside Lab, with a residency upcoming in 2017 at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. She is also a founding member of the UNL Social Practice Coalition, a collective of artists and activists interested in blurring the lines between art, performance, political activism, community organizing, and environmentalism. You can see more of her work here.