Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places. In 2011, I had the pleasure of reading the book, “State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America”. Included in this collection of essays is one written by Carrie Brownstein on my home state of Washington. In that essay, Brownstein observes that Western Washingtonians often forget there is an eastern half of the state. She goes on to muse that the “Cascade Curtain”—the Cascade Mountain Range which divides the state into two distinct halves—is aptly nicknamed. Having spent all but one year of my life in Washington, mostly in the western half, her words rang very true for me, especially coming from a fellow west-side native. Even though I spent four years of my childhood in Eastern Washington and had driven over the mountains dozens of times as an adult, I realized that “Washington” to me had always meant the half I see every day.
For those not familiar with the topography of my state, Western Washington is damp, green and dense, while Eastern Washington is arid, brown and sparse. As if to mirror the contrast in physical landscapes, the social, economic and political landscapes are also divergent. In Brownstein’s words, “Washington is two states.”
A year or so after reading (and rereading) that essay, I found myself aching to escape an increasingly-stifling familiarity with my everyday surroundings. I desperately longed for new subject matter to photograph, a chance to shift gears and stretch out. One day, while dreaming of road trips through the American Southwest, but resigning myself to pondering nearby small towns lost in the folds of a tattered state map from my glovebox, I remembered that essay and realized that I had once again forgotten about Eastern Washington, a fact I was suddenly compelled to change. It really wasn’t all that far from my home in Seattle—at least not compared to the Southwest—nor did it require airfare, much advanced planning or a prohibitive block of time. I also surmised that it was full of the type of subject matter I had been longing to photograph: a rural and more quintessentially “American” America.
A couple weeks later, I loaded my cameras into my car and headed east for the day. Within two hours of leaving the taillights and moss of Seattle behind, I was on the other side of the mountains, surrounded by rolling, brown hills, with dust kicking up from the roadside and parked pickups in the distance on every side of me. I decided then and there to embark on a series of two-day road trips, photographing this strangely exotic “new” state I had forgotten, or perhaps never realized, existed. What I’ve found so far is a wildly varied and beautiful terrain, a faded pallet of browns and grays, an abundance of space with telltale reminders that man owns and tames the land, yet the relentless beauty of nature prevails—the “America” I had forgotten was just next door.
Most importantly, I have discovered that despite two opposites bound together by an outline on a map, there is a sense of balance driving across the state. “We” need “them” and just maybe they need us too. This series represents these revelations. These are the landscapes of Eastern Washington—as seen by a Western Washingtonian—from the roads that wind through it. This is “The Other Side”.