An ethnographic photography essay exploring the silver-mining boomtown of Virginia City, Nevada.
Perched on the highesteastern slope of the Virginia Range, Mount Davidson, in Storey County, Nevada,sits a town of 855 inhabitants and over 150 years of history. Named VirginiaCity through a folklore story involving the prospector, “Old Virginny Finney”,this boomtown was home to the Comstock Lode of 1859, the United States’ firstmajor silver ore discovery. Declared a National Historic Landmark district in1961, Virginia City stands historically preserved, boasting authentic 1860’sattractions that continue to perform and narrate histories of the colonial“Wild West”.
Expected to decay and be left abandoned like the many ghosttowns scattered through the landscapes of the West, Virginia City lives onbecause of its robust tourist industry and its small, dedicated population.When walking along C Street, the synthesis of past and present is obvious.Opera houses used for regional punk festivals or the international camel racesfilmed with iPhones, Virginia City’s demonstrative celebration of its Westernfolklore draws attention to the role of storytelling and myth within establishedAmerican histories.
As a social documentarianinterested in visual anthropology, cultural geography and practices of place-making,I am interested in exploring how Virginia City culturally interacts with its builtand natural landscapes and how those landscapes interrelate with the identitiesof Virginia City. How these place-based interactions become knowledge systemslayered over time and space sits at the crux of the identity making practicesperformed in the town today. How have the residents of Virginia City incorporatedstory and myth into their relationships with place? The phenomenology oflandscape, or how human self-awareness is created both from geological spaces,as well as performs an agency in shaping those natural spaces, is critical tounderstanding how Virginia City has continued to survive.
Through the use ofanalogue photography, ambient and interview based sound montages, as well asethnographic text, “Tailings” unpacks how Virginia City’s custom of storytellingaffects how place is rendered, remembered and endlessly re-made. Executed in aself-published book, “Tailings” relays the voices and narratives of thepeoples and environments present inVirginia City, as well as those that have continually been absent from the dominant,colonial History.
This project will be completed in its entirety by June 2018.