The Wall Street Journal, December 2014
“Tonopah” (2012) is one of 14 large-format photographs of deserted Western mining towns by Bryan Schutmaat at Wolf. In Mr. Schutmaat’s picture, Tonopah, Nev., known as the “Queen of the Silver Camps,” is pretty much a dump: An apparently uninhabited shack is in the right foreground with two whitewall tires and an iron bedstead among the junk out back; an abandoned car is in the middle of the image; behind it, some trailers; further back, the Mizpah Hotel. A scattering of other buildings ascend the slopes, and in the distance are the still-pristine peaks of some mountains. It is Robert Adams’s worst nightmare in color.
There are also pictures of abandoned homesteads, closed businesses and a deserted mining site, but half the prints are portraits of men. The faces of these men mirror the desecrated landscapes.
In the same way the mines once held out the promise of mineral wealth and have now been depleted, “Ted” (2011) looks like a man whose dreams have failed; middle-aged, with graying beard and hair, he has blue eyes that stare at the camera but do not seem to be seeing anything.
“Ralph” (2011) has darker hair and a stragglier beard, but he, too, looks like a man who has assessed his life a failure. “Wes” (2011) is a younger man, with close-cropped hair, a neat beard, and a tattoo that says “Mom” on his right forearm; he sits outside with a child—a shack and a burning fire behind him—and looks defeated.
Collector Daily, December 2014
In the past decade, dozens of talented contemporary photographers, all investigating their own separate and distinct artistic interests, somehow looked up and found themselves in roughly the same place, as though following a silent but surprisingly persuasive homing beacon. That place was the 21st century American wilderness, not the one captured with majestic, heroic grandeur in the Ansel Adams days, but the one out beyond where the depressed boom towns now thin out, where the electric grid stops, and where the land now sits quietly, slowly recovering from the rough treatment it has endured at our hands over the previous decades. It’s the place where the people have been left behind, or the one they have deliberately returned to to get away from the modern world.
Given the density of talent pursuing thoughtful variations on this theme, we might conclude that, even though we may have overlooked it, many or perhaps all roads now lead to this same place. If you’re an artist and you want to extend the footsteps of Evans, Lange, and the FSA photographers, you might end up here. If you want to follow up on the environmental and suburban sprawl investigations of the New Topographics photographers, you might end up here. If you want to examine the real life consequences of and reactions to our recent economic/political bust, you might end up here. If you revel in the textures of decaying surfaces or want to update the vistas of the 19th century Romantic painters, you might end up here. If you want to explore the edges of failed masculinity and the changing roles of marginalized men, you might end up here. In short, whether you are a realist or a poet (or both), the backwaters of the American West may be your new second home, and a smart list of photographers like Soth, Kurland, Foglia, Potter, and many others is evidence that this congregation of attention isn’t just a coincidence.
Bryan Schutmaat’s place in this ever expanding crowd has been secured by the strength of his portraits. While this show does include a handful of well seen landscapes and town views (especially the long sweep of the city of Tonapah decorated with junked cars, abandoned tires, makeshift shacks, and dusty snow, and a rugged mountain landscape punctuated by an abandoned homestead and a rusty car), it’s his images of people (nearly all men) that resonate with the most durable power.
Seen in their trucks, in their cluttered yards, on the broad sweep of the prairie, or in close up head shots, his faces document the complex emotional landscape of an empty mining town or a failed mountain community. In the older men, Schutmaat finds greasy hair, scraggly beards, weathered faces, and hollowed out expressions, showing us a mix of stubborn determination and depressed resignation; these are men that have seen the hard times and the disappointments, and have gotten by with worn down stoicism and perseverance. The middle aged men are perhaps the saddest, as they seem to have realized that the hopes they once held aren’t going to come true; they have the appearance of hard work, of matted hat heads, dirty clothes, three day stubble, and too many jobs to do to get by. The lone young man in this group seems to look to the horizon with a shard of optimism in his demeanor – whether it is hope for a better life in his current place or hope to one day get away isn’t entirely clear; he’s like a lone flower blossoming in a field of destruction.
Several of Schutmaat’s technical decisions contribute to the success of these pictures. First, the tonal palette has been consciously muted; his colors wander through greys, greens, and browns, with almost no bright highlights or eye catching details. The result is a mood that is subdued, matching the cloudy, faded, weather beaten patina of the environment. Second, Schutmaat uses a shallow depth of field in the close up portraits, placing our attention on the plane of the eyes and allowing both the foreground noses and background details to fall into loose blur. In a work like Ted, it brings us right in close to see the topology of his quiet sorrow, his fuzzy out of focus features a supporting element in depicting his conflicted demeanor.
In the end, there is a desolation in these pictures that packs a punch like a mournful blues melody. In Schutmaat’s men, we see loneliness, and isolation, and the romantic myths of frontier self-determination slowly eroded away. But the fact that there is beauty to be found here too gives the images their seductive balance. There is turmoil in the hearts of these men, but Schutmaat’s empathy makes us root for them, even in the face of such dispiriting odds.
The New Yorker, November 2014
Working in a documentary style popularized by Alec Soth, this Texas-based photographer uses portraits and landscapes to sketch a loose but engaging narrative about mines and miners in the American West. An abandoned homestead and the wrecked car collapsed in its driveway are seen against the vista of a pine-dotted mountain so ideal it looks like a painted set. Schutmaat’s sites, once magnets for pioneers, are now the end of the road, and the men he photographs are stuck there. Somber, stoic, and weathered, these guys may not be defeated, but they’re plainly struggling. Schutmaat regards them with brotherly sympathy, and invites us to share in the sentiment.
Photo-Eye, March 2015
Time Lightbox, February 2015
Juxtapoz Magazine, January 2015
KVUE – Bryan Schutmaat, Time Magazine person of the year, 2014
Time Lightbox, for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, December 2014
Art News, November 2014
Artnet, November 2014
Esquire, Russia, 2013
American Photo, December 2013
The Washington Post, November 2013
Dazed, November 2013
The Guardian, September 2013
TIME Lightbox, September 2013
Dirty Laundry Magazine, September 2013
PDN, July 2013
Boston Globe, June 2013
The Sunday Times Magazine, May 2013
Lenscratch, April 2013
Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, December 2012
Feature Shoot, December 2012
VICE, November 2012
It’s Nice That, November 2012
CNN, October 2012
Aesthetica, February/March 2012
Houston Press, May 2011
Houston Chronicle, May 2011
Tendencias Fashion Mag, June 2010
Vogue Girl Korea, April 2010