Review by Wayne Swanson •
Colorado may be known as a land of snow-capped peaks, ski slopes, and the mystique of a certain bland beer brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water. But that’s just the half of it. Head east from Denver, and you enter another world. A flat, semi-arid world. A world of dust.
Colorado-based photographer and cinematographer Ben P. Ward presents a social and environmental portrait of this Colorado — the Eastern Plains. It’s a sparsely populated land of small towns, ranches, and farms, where men are men and women are . . . well, there are no women in this book. I Dream of Dust is a meditation on masculine life on the fringe of the American consciousness.
It’s a melancholy world of empty spaces, blank faces, rusted old cars, and dust. Ward presents a collection of portraits, landscapes, and interiors with a dusty ambience. The well-composed 4 x 5 film images create and sustain a mood of loneliness and isolation. It’s a deadpan aesthetic with hints of Todd Hido and Alec Soth, complemented by the book’s handsome but simple design. There’s a cover page, 57 images, and a page of acknowledgements. That’s it. No text or essays. No identification of the region where the photos were taken, or information about Ward. The book is published by Temper Books, a young independent publishing group based in Denver that creates photography and film art books that feature “minimal design.” That certainly describes I Dream of Dust.
For any context, you must go to Temper Books’ website. The publisher’s description identifies the location as the Eastern Plains, and it seeks to distance the book from “the familiar trope of documenting ‘left behind’ America.” Instead, it says Ward “hopes to subvert our tendencies to romanticize nostalgia” and instead “examine the influence of geography on identity: the tendency of people to mirror the land they inhabit and the tendency of the land to be equally shaped by its inhabitants.”
Lofty goals, but perhaps a bit of overreach. By focusing on the lives of men with expressions ranging all the way from blank to stoic doing manly men things in an austere environment, the book presents a rather narrow view of the region.
That’s not to discount the quality of the work. It’s a cohesive and atmospheric photographic essay about one facet of rural life. I Dream of Dust deftly captures an existence based on self-reliance, hard work, and simple pleasures in an unforgiving landscape. A landscape of dust.
Contributing Editor Wayne Swanson is a San Diego-based fine art photographer and writer.
I Dream of Dust, Ben P. Ward
Photographer: Ben P. Ward, resides Fort Collins, CO, USA
Publisher: Temper Books (Denver, CO, USA, copyright 2021)
Cloth-covered hardcover book with tipped-in photo, Smythe-sewn binding, off-set printing, 8 x 10 inches, 104 pages, 57 plates, printed in Istanbul
Photobook designer: Callin Mackintosh
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