David Zimmerman is an American born artist working in New York City and Taos, New Mexico. Of this series, Last Refuge, he writes: ‘Haphazard communities have evolved in remote areas where there is no electricity or water. Some of these people were defiant while others were resolved, but what they had in common was that all were living on the fringes of society. Home for most was an abandoned car, a dilapidated camper or some primitive shelter constructed from scrap. Mud and straw were used in a futile attempt to insulate the flimsy cardboard and tarp walls. While living amongst a group of families in the desert, I came across an odd pile of clothing which had been beaten for years by the relentless climate. There is a hidden beauty in many things, and the pile of abandoned clothing attracted me at first by its palette and form, and by its odd 2-dimensionality.’ Last Refuge is on view at Sous Les Etoiles Gallery in New York until January 28, 2012.
These articles of clothing belong to people living off the grid. How did you first come across this community?
‘During my travels over the past 10 years while photographing the landscape of the west, I’ve seen dramatically increasing numbers of people living either on the road or in remote and often haphazard communities. Most of these people were not drifters however; they came from the ranks of teachers and firefighters and college graduates who, in an environment of decreasing opportunity and a rapidly changing economic climate, find themselves with little but their clothes and their shelter. The clothes in these photographs were used as insulation on the roof of one mans shelter.’
The shades of the garments are photographed in clusters of golden brown to greyish blue. Did you arrange the garments at all before you photographed them?
‘When I first saw this large area of discarded clothes on the ground, I was attracted by its odd 2-dimensionality and its palette. It had, as I would later discover, been there for years. It had been beaten flat by the harsh climate and was photographed as I found it. Any disruption would have changed its character from a flattened and almost fused mass of color and texture to simply a pile of clothing.’
This series is a departure from your portfolio of landscapes and portraits. Was there anything different about the way you tackled this project?
‘Throughout most of my work, it’s people who are my primary preoccupation – people whos lives depend on the landscape, the impact of a changing physical landscape on people and the impact of shifting social and political ideologies on people.’
As well as photographing clothing, you also photographed some of the people living this lifestyle. Are there plans to show those images as well?
‘This series of photographs is a small slice of a much larger story of people living at a subsistence level. For many months I have been photographing them, their shelters and the landscape they live in. My plan is to continue that work.’
How long did you work on this project and what are your plans now that the work is finished?
‘I’ve spent about a year on this portion of the project and continue to photograph, and re-photograph as the weather and light changes. The larger story of massive numbers of people living near desperation still haunts, and I will continue to spend time with these people living on the road and on the fringe.’