Tess Bukowsky observes the narratives within southern America monumental landscapes and religion.
Come Unto Me was developed when I spent some time living in Texas. I was raised as an atheist in Australia and found myself in truly unfamiliar territory living within the Bible Belt. During my time in the south I built friendships with people who were deeply religious individuals or had, at some point in their lives, been living as devout believers.
I was so preoccupied by how religion played such a part in the way they moved through life – the decisions they made, how they viewed things… even those who had given up the belief in a higher power – they were bound by it but in a different way. They seemed less concerned by the daily drudgery of their lives because their time on earth was merely the beginning of their ‘journey’. It is a hard thing to articulate outside of the conversations that I was having with these people. But so often it baffled me that this invisible force could have such a grip on their existence.
My series, Come Unto Me became a reflection of the seemingly insignificant narratives I witnessed in the every day grind of America. Most of what I shot for the series was shot in the Bible Belt. The religious connotations aren’t blaringly obvious in every single still – mainly because I didn’t want to isolate any of my audience in what I was feeling was to be my debut series of work. Of course I had more content that I have created over the years but I felt that Come Unto Me was my first complete and fully realised collection that I wanted to be out there in the world.
Some photographers are builders and some are collectors. Collectors shoot the world around them, collecting snippets of every day life – the extraordinary and the ordinary. Builders create what they want in a still. They build an image to suit what they need out of a picture. I’m a collector. I shoot what I find right in front of me. It might look like nothing sometimes but in my mind there is a complete narrative within the still image. People been and gone, the life previously lived but long forgotten. To me that is the truth. I’m not meddling with a story - I’m simply capturing it. The series is mostly composed of landscapes, because I like to focus on the unseen. As I said before there are narratives everywhere. People may not be present but they’ve been there. They have lived through that space. I think we like to brush over the small things. We look to the big things, the pretty and important things but there is something to be said in the abandoned landscapes that I love to capture. Something in them also reminds me of relationships with god along those Bible Belt towns. Without the people, they felt godless – isolated and left behind.
I think that is really closely linked to why I prefer film to digital. I’m a traditionalist; I just want to relay the most honest depiction of what I can see through my eyes. It also makes me really careful, I can’t just click away. I’ve got to really want that shot before I take it.
I was reading a lot of Raymond Carver and Richard Ford at the time and I can really see that coming through in the series. That part of America can feel desolate and forsaken and they are things that really come through in the writing that I was submerging myself in at the time. It’s the poetry in the emptiness of it, if you get my gist.
Words and Photography by Tess Bukowsky.