Deconstructing myths and clichés, Wild West is the outcome of a trip that Joachim Hildebrand (b.1964) took around the seven states of the American Southwest. Although his title immediately sparks connotations of bandits, cowboys and frontiers, the work offers a sensitive take on an area that has a powerful and romanticised pull on our imagination. His findings are on display at Alp Galleries, Frankfurt, from 8 June – 17 August, accompanied by an eponymous publication.
From the second half of the 19th century, during the peak of territorial expansion, the Western United States was a point of fascination for the media. Accounts of anarchic chaos became folkloric, eventually culminating in the development of the popular cultural genre. Hildebrand is not the first to attempt to dismantle stereotypes of the area, but he does so with a compelling subtlety. He is interested in the idea of civilisation, and what it means, in practice, to displace wilderness in this manner. In exploring distinctions such as rural and urban, he provides an account of man-made communities that questions archetypes of the American dream. He emphasises, throughout, that claiming any sort of right to the land remains deeply problematic today, albeit in constantly shifting ways.
There is a fascination here not only with human conquest but also with nature’s capacity to emerge in unlikely places. Plants form a happy contrast with cars in Untitled #5825, and scorched but surviving grass is the only sign of life at the derelict gas station shown in Untitled #2189. His shots of murals, too, show animals and trees, some even engaging directly with the region’s history by depicting a man on horseback, the scene completed by sunset, cacti and Stetson hat (Untitled #9367). As a whole, this series of photographs undoubtedly has an important role to play in allowing the region to speak for itself – something that has generally been all too rare.
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1. Joachim Hildebrand, from Wild West. Courtesy of the artist.