Evening at Bannack, Montana, 2010
As a stage setting opening image, this photograph expresses the mood of the place. We move from the dark foreground to a grouping of four modest homes in various stages of disintegration. The trees animate the scene, while the sparsely wooded hills in the background offer a sense of location.
Insulation, Bannack, Montana, 2010
Bannack allows its visitors to explore the inside as well as the outside of many of its 60 structures. Most of the wall coverings within its buildings are peeling away, some of them revealing fascinating insights into the past. This closeup reveals a glimpse of a vintage newspaper used as insulation. From the typography and the shredded news photograph of foreign diplomats at a conference, we learn that this particular house was either built or insulated in the early years of the 20th century.
Interior, Bannack, Montana, 2010
I made over a thousand images during my two days of shooting at Bannack. In editing them for this photo-essay, it was important to keep in mind that each image I selected must be distinctively different from the others. For example, I had made at least a couple of hundred shots of just the abandoned rooms within the various structures. All of them evoked the past, yet I chose only three of them for this essay. This one, made with a 20mm wideangle focal length, evokes the past most expressively because of the old sink left standing alone among the empty rooms of this house. I liked the way the light plays along the floorboards, the bluish color of the window light echoing the blue sink itself.
Schoolhouse, Bannack, Montana, 2010
One of the most distinctive structures at Bannack is the 1874 school building. The one room school is on the first floor and a Masonic Hall occupies the second floor. The school was used for 70 years, finally closing in the 1950s. I used the 20mm wideangle focal length once again – this time to include the old boardwalk on the opposite side of the street as an anchoring foreground. The wooden slats of this boardwalk echo the wood facing of the school.
Schoolroom, Bannack, Montana, 2010
Rather than show the old desks that are still in place in this room, I concentrate on the glowing window shade with its carefully tied drawstring. The drawn shade symbolizes closure – the school is no more, but the light of the knowledge once gained within that room still lingers.
Methodist Church, Bannack, Montana, 2010
The only church in Bannack, this building was built in 1877. It brought a touch of "respectability" to what had been a virtually lawless mining town. Some of the vintage seats are still in place. I use the window light to stress the texture of the seats, emphasizing the wear and tear the years have brought to them.
The snow begins, Bannack, Montana, 2010
While shooting inside of the church, I noticed that a light snow had just begun to fall. Although we were there in late May, the weather ignores the calendar in this remote part of Montana. I framed the trees and buildings, huddled in the gloomy light opposite the church, through its open door. The repeating diagonals within the trees echo the diagonal thrust of the church banister.
Weathered façade, Bannack, Montana, 2010
The wear and tear of time is evident on all of Bannack’s structures. The sagging screen door here is particularly symbolic of such wear. The harsh textures and colors evoke the brutality of Montana’s rugged winters. Faint streaks of falling snow can be seen against the darkness of the window.
Snowscape, Bannack, Montana, 2010
We returned early the following morning to continue shooting at Bannack. May 23rd had brought Bannack back into the depths of winter. The difference the fallen snow makes here is profound. I wanted to make this as cold and l lonely an image as I could produce. There are no people on the deserted main street of the town. Tire tracks enter the frame, and then hauntingly stop. The school and its adjoining buildings are sealed in snow, under a threatening sky.
Abandoned truck, Bannack, Montana, 2010
I had seen this same truck the day before. It was just another rusty derelict. However a day later, snow was piled upon its fenders, roof, and hood. The trees behind it are weighted with snow as well. I moved in on just half of the truck to present a frozen glimpse of time, stopped in its tracks.
Meade Hotel, Bannack, Montana, 2010
The most prominent building in Bannack was originally built as the Beaverhead County Courthouse in 1875. Only six years later, the county seat was moved to Dillon, Montana, and the grand building lay deserted for another nine years. In 1890, it began its new life as the town’s finest hotel – the center of Bannack’s social life and a temporary home to many Montana travelers. It closed forever in the 1940s, and today stands empty except for the ghosts that are said to inhabit its deserted rooms. I made many images of the Meade, both inside and out. I use this one in the essay because it is about as bleak an image as one could make.
Cemetery, Bannack, Montana, 2010
Bannack’s dead rest (some say restlessly) in two cemeteries. The oldest, high on a hill within the town itself, served from 1862 to 1880. In 1876, residents began burying their dead in this “new” cemetery outside of town. It has over 60 graves, and in this image I show it after the snowfall, under a gradually clearing sky. It is as lonely and desolate as any cemetery I’ve seen, yet in this impression of it, the coming of deep blue skies make it seem almost inspirational.