the reckoning days
Forward by Genevieve Allison
Investigating issues of isolation in rural communities – a subtext that inspires much of the artist’s recent work – Elliot Ross returned home to look at the hardships and industry of living off the land in a remote area of the American West. The Reckoning Days explores the complex reality of farming in the rural high plains of Northeast Colorado, as a portrait and a metaphor. Intimately following the exploits of one family (the photographer’s own) during wheat harvest, this series explores the deep sense of faith, family and interconnectedness that remains the fabric of a way of life that can be physically grueling, financially precarious and immanently threatened by a changing world and the ever changing mechanisms of material production that supply it.
Overcoming the conditions of a documentary approach, the artist renders the environment with a high degree of inflection, betraying a great sympathy - and an affection - for his subjects. A warm, almost cinematic intonation expresses the drama inherent in this annual cycle: on one level, of waiting for auspicious conditions - of interpersonal dynamics and tensions that run aground when crops languish or yields fall short; and on another, broader notions of the fraught transactions between climate and commerce, the environment and man, man’s industry and divine will. Underlying biblical themes are articulated through subtle allusions suggested in sequences and recurring motifs. At the same time, the polished treatment of the imagery appropriates the aesthetic language of advertising, which, as it relates to food production, seeks to personalize corporate interests and consumer culture with constructed narratives that often signify naturalism, nostalgia and family values.
Informed by the work of the FSA photographers, who, by casting their lens on the rural poor brought attention to their plight during a period when the national economy and agricultural climate were causing great dislocations in rural life. With a similar focus, these images draw critical inquiry into the current day position of the rural working class. The American farmer has long been equated with core American values and ideals, and as such has been incorporated into the national imagination with a high degree of essentialism and romanticism, yet little actual economic and cultural capital. In a political climate where so much of the national identity references historical ideals more than actualizes them, the status of the family-owned farm in the United States is a concrete symbol of the changing face of production and the families behind politicized ideals.