When I was young, my family would hunt for mushrooms in the forests of the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. Some days we would spend afternoons along the shallows of a river watching salmon fight their way to spawning grounds upstream. These were the icons of the region: forest and salmon, pillars of Northwest identity. Over the last four years, I have returned to make photographs of the Northwest that address the complicated relationship between the region’s landscape, the industries that rely upon natural resources, and the communities they support.
In returning to the Northwest, I found a wet and weathered region imbued with much history and facing an uncertain future. The forests of the coastal mountains are a patchwork of logged clearings, young third and fourth-growth timber, and occasional pockets of old growth. Mountains, covered with Douglas fir seedlings barely a foot tall, appear physically shrunken in size. Like the old-growth forests, the industries themselves and the towns they helped build are also a shadow of their former size and importance. Mills have closed, fishermen have sold their boats, and unemployment runs high. Folks scratch out a living selling sweaters from a former Masonic Lodge, doing odd jobs for the local taverns, or volunteering at state-run salmon hatcheries.
Sawdust Mountain is a melancholy love letter of sorts to my native Northwest. The photographs are a personal reflection of the region’s past, its hardscrabble identity, and the turbulent future it must navigate.
Eirik Johnson is an assistant professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. His work is in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Seattle Art Museum, and the George Eastman House. His second monograph, Sawdust Mountain, was published in 2009. A large exhibition of his work is currently on view at the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, and will be on view at the Aperture Foundation Gallery in New York in Spring 2010.