The proliferation of landscape photography in the American West beginning in the late nineteenth century—following a robust program of federal land grants and a fervent gold rush—transformed our vision of the western expanse from a rogue frontier to a land suddenly laden with untapped enterprise and promise. Photographers of the period sought to reveal the region’s opportunity for growth and cultivation as a central theme to their images, often including the evidence of human encroachment in their photographs to support such beliefs. The resulting effect was an assimilation of the land’s meaning with the bountiful opportunities of the period and the consequences of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution.
Jesse Chehak’s ongoing series, Fools Gold, recalls the reverence for nature held by the earliest members of the Western Survey photography movement from over a century ago. Chehak, much like his predecessors, regards the opportunism of the West with an acute sanguinity, citing the region’s bountiful splendor as evidence of its still-unspoiled terrain. Equally, Chehak’s purist approach to the medium speaks to his nineteenth century counterparts—using only a map and field camera as tools for navigating the terrain. Taking aesthetic cues from the German Romanticist movement, Chehak searches the region for breathtaking vistas to illustrate his veneration for the environment. Picturesque beauty abounds in the images—verdant fields lie beneath blue skies, mountains bathe in golden dusks, and bison roam in the forest’s clearings, each serving as a perceptive reminder of the humbling admiration we experience when confronted with such natural resplendence.
Jesse Chehak’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad. Mr. Chehak was the recipient of the 2007 Magenta Emerging Photographer Award, and was featured in the 2005 Twenty Breakthrough Talents sponsored by Print Magazine and the 2005 30 Under 30 sponsored by Photo District News. Chehak contributes regularly to the New York Times Magazine, Wallpaper, and Men’s Vogue, among others. The artist currently lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico.