Driving across the Montana plains an hour before sunset is truly bliss. In the late summer, all is gold. Grass takes on the same hue as the ripened wheat and folds in endless shimmers under an enormous blue sky. Sky is everywhere. Such a simple reality, but when the light is right, you smile for no reason other than that. The land glows all around you. Farms are sparsely scattered across fields and pastures and within an hour's drive you may be lucky to meet one other car on the road.
This project is about the people of Montana, not the landscape, but it is how the landscape is projected into people's character that I wish to share. In people's faces, I see a solitude and clarity that develops from living off of a land wide open, a quiet intuition of when to work the land, when to plant and when to harvest. There is a respect and sincerity for the ground they walk on and the sky overhead. On the plains you can see a storm approaching hours before it hits. There is a stillness in the air and you know every farmer is watching the clouds with the same stillness, waiting and hoping for needed rain.
I started this project the moment I left Montana. I had always dreamed of living abroad and photographing exotic culture's peoples, people unbranded by trendy clothing and pop culture. I flew across the Atlantic and a month later realized that everything I was looking for was literally out the front door of the farm I grew up on. The entire six months I was away I thought of all the people I wanted to photograph at home. Since then, I have been making portraits of my family, neighbors, and other Montana farmers and ranchers, including a few of the local Hutterite colonies. Hutterites are a communally-based society founded on Biblical scripture almost 600 years ago. Approximately forty-five colonies reside in Montana and depend on agriculture to sustain them.
My first introduction to the Deerfield Hutterites was through my grandma Mabel. A young Hutterite girl had been in a serious accident so my grandma loaded my cousin and I, both of us very shy eight year olds at the time, into her car, drove down the road and announced, "Kerry and Julie are here to sing for you!" Giggling and starring at our toes, we squeaked out the only song we could remember "Mr. Fly," a horrible song about climbing a high tree and crashing to the ground. Inappropriate I'm sure, but it made everyone laugh. Hutterites are very polite and generous people and I've always been welcomed into their homes as a friend.
There is something very special about photographing one's home. There is an easy trust and honesty that flows through every encounter. From the shy beginnings to the very end, the sessions with my subjects become a way of connecting even deeper to my roots. I've heard incredible stories and been read poetry. I've been sent home with fresh baked rolls, ostrich feathers, leather sachets, and even a haircut. Company on the farm is almost always welcome. I share with you my love and respect for home.
- Julie Melton, April 2004
CAPTIONS, LEFT TO RIGHT, TOP TO BOTTOM
Click each image for larger version and expanded caption.
Julie Melton, Mom and Dad, late June sun, 2003, Gelatin silver print, 14 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist
Julie Melton, Grandma's Square Dancing Dress, 2002, Gelatin silver print, 14 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist
Julie Melton, Julia Jackson, Cowgirl Legend, 1999, Gelatin silver print, 14 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist
Julie Melton, Festus Recites Poetry, 2000, Gelatin silver print, 14 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist
Julie Melton, Delilah, Deerfield Hutterite Colony, 2000, Gelatin silver print, 14 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist
Julie Melton, Crystal and Travis, Deerfield Hutterite Colony, 2003, Gelatin silver print, 14 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist
Julie Melton, Cleaning the Church, Deerfield Hutterite Colony, 2003, Gelatin silver print, 14 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist
Julie Melton, Donna, Deerfield Hutterite Colony, 2000, Gelatin silver print, 14 x 14 inches, Courtesy of the artist