"So, you know, a lot of what I just told you is true...

if there is anything that is truth."

-Shaun Griffin, Virginia City, Nevada, excerpt from Tailings

Created by Cebe Loomis

June 2018

Self-published book, 186 pages
Exhibition video featuring analogue photographs and place-based soundscape, runtime 09:22 minutes


noun tail·ing \ˈtā-liŋ\
1. The material that remains after minerals have been extracted from an ore by ore dressing.

Along an amber dusted highway in Nevada sits Virginia City, a timeworn mining town clinging to a mile-high mountain peak. This boomtown was home to the Comstock Lode of 1859, the United States’ first major silver ore discovery. Although expected to decay and be abandoned, Virginia City lives on through its robust tourist industry and small, dedicated population. As a preserved national monument and lived “ghost town”, Virginia City straddles the blurred line between truth and myth everyday. While the town’s very existence depends on its performance of Wild West mythology for its one million tourists a year, the town’s dwellers eagerly protect a fragile authenticity of both the lived place of Virginia City and its “great” American history. Tailings uses analogue photography (35mm/120mm), sound art and personal testimony to explore how Virginia City’s 855 residents grapple with the selling of Wild West mythology to its visitors, while living their daily lives in a mining town founded on colonial expansionism.

"What we have done here is focused in on what the public’s preconceived ideas of the West are and also enhanced the things that people have heard about and people that people have heard about, like Mark Twain, like Julie Bulette, like the Bonanza kings, that sort of thing. And that's pretty typical of what you see in history, especially in an environment that is driven by a tourist economy."

-Bert Bedeau, Virginia City, Nevada, excerpt from Tailings

Virginia City is also called by another name, the Comstock. Home to the Comstock Lode of 1859, Virginia City’s mining history is renowned and complex; tangible fragments of this history can be found scattered throughout the town. Some of these fragments are called tailings—the organic waste materials that remain after the valuable minerals have been extracted from an ore. This detritus continues to litter the landscapes of placer and hard rock mining towns across the United States. Although these rises of earth can be immense in size, their fillings are most often perceived as the redundant, the forgotten and the unobserved. These ruptured insides are the reason I returned to Virginia City. Seemingly lost in time, Virginia City works to reveal its “tailings” everyday—sometimes in large chunks or small pieces, in raspy fragmentation or embellished banter at a local saloon.

Although it has been expected to decay and be abandoned like the many ghost towns scattered through the landscapes of the West, Virginia City lives on through its robust tourist industry and small, dedicated population. The synthesis of past and present makes itself obvious to anyone walking along C Street. Opera houses are used for regional punk festivals. Gold-panning troughs are filmed with iPhones. Virginia City’s demonstrative celebration of its Western folklore calls notice to the mythologies of the West, but also raises questions as to whose histories are being celebrated, whose histories are disregarded and why?

"Carson City, Virginia City...[My parents] left Virginia City in 1895, I think. There was nothing there—depression. The miners had nothing. Practically nothing. Wiped the whole town out. No more. I think they went to Virginia City before the Civil War. They came from China and went first to Virginia City."

-Yuen Kee, recorded 1989, courtesy of Shirlaine Kee Baldwin, excerpt from Tailings

Tailings works to unpack how Virginia City’s custom of storytelling affects how place and identity is rendered, remembered, and endlessly remade. The combination of image, text and sound both supports and subverts the many voices found in Virginia City, Nevada. Through three chapters: (Ch.1) A Place Known: Tourism and Historical Performance, (Ch.2) A Place Unknown: Historical Amnesia, and (Ch.3) A Place Lived: Making Place and Identity Today, Tailings works to represent this layered, multiple and uneven recounting of place, history and home. Over one million tourists a year ramble their way up a mountain, in a state hardly spoken of, to visit a one street town. Why? Tailings ultimately communicates an understanding of identity, place, and history as participatory and shared, while also inspiring knowledge that welcomes a collaboration of human histories.

"In such a wide-open environment, if you’re from a city, all you hear is noise and there are tall buildings and no visual horizon. That’s comforting to some but when you’re in this environment it’s disconcerting to someone from the city. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve had that come from the East and the first thing they say is, 'I just can’t be in this environment. I can’t be in this much open space. I feel too vulnerable.' And those things impact our framing of the world, how we see it, what we do in it, why we do what we do, and our ability to view it as beauty."

-Shaun Griffin, Virginia City, Nevada, excerpt from Tailings

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