Good Earth

 

Missouri has the largest known lead deposits in the world and lead mining has operated uninterrupted in Southeast Missouri for over 300 years. Early mining was done mostly on the surface, but eventual advances in technology made industrial scale, subterranean mining possible.

A century of mining took place in Missouri’s Old Lead Belt—a rural area about an hour south of St. Louis—before the mines were shuttered in the early 1970s. It was in the Old Lead Belt that industrial lead mining evolved from hand picks and mule teams to steam powered shovels and electric trains running on hundreds of miles of underground rails. The communities in this area were established and defined by the lead industry, and now 40 years after its disappearance, are struggling to reconcile their past as they are confronted by a much less promising future.

An excerpt from the exhibition catalog’s introduction, written by artist and photographer Joe Johnson:

A New Yorker from Los Angeles photographing in Missouri, Benjamin Hoste works within a tradition of photographic reportage where photographers, from the coasts often, strike out into our nation’s middle in search of the extreme of American experience. Good Earth, however, is made durable by the quiet slow-release language of pictures that mirror what is essential to their subject: a human predicament relating to home and the stubborn revelation of what can be found lying invisibly beneath the surface of the land. Hoste, the well meaning outsider, seems to have taken his time with this one.

Good Earth brings form to a national conversation that can otherwise feel impersonal. It is a project that could be made in any number of places in the U.S. where automation, rural flight, and environmental concerns change local demographics. It would be simple enough to describe Missouri’s Old Lead Belt as a collection of dying towns with the typical iconographic tropes we see in much of the accounting of deindustrialization. And easier still to maintain a characterization of rural populations as isolated and unwilling to embrace the changes they face, a narrative that further alienates people. Good Earth cools the viewer’s ability to implicate, offering instead sharp eyed pictures of lives being lived that are informative and humane.

Hoste refers to himself as a “non-fiction photographer,” suggesting that he uses the medium for both its precision and associative literary potential. Since non-fiction has never really meant objective we are left to ponder Hoste’s intentions through his subject choice and sequencing strategy. A photograph of an exhibit from a local city hall is a community’s sincere effort to remember itself. There is tension in the photograph of friends enjoying their ATVs among the chat piles thought to be harmful to health. The youthful faces found throughout the sequence is a reminder that this is not a place where people just grow old but also where they are growing up right now. We may appreciate the complexity Hoste has brought to the rendering of this place. Lead extraction, seen either as a proud reminder of the birth of a community or as the culprit of a public health calamity, is nevertheless in the blood.

Works

Untitled (37.92213, -90.55573)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.922130, -90.555738)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.774497, -90.490555)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.900162, -90.616154)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.922744, -90.551229)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.854356, -90.502045)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.854356, -90.502045)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.849506, -90.609730)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.845350, -90.590011)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.842377, -90.534403)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.813535, -90.508252)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.834327, -90.513622)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.856152, -90.592468)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.834327, -90.513622)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.985695, -90.534226)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.971978, -90.536892)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.340760, -90.788065)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.845350, -90.590011)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.84581, -90.52058)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.84726, -90.52105)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.837827, -90.508230)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.91576, -90.54888)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.923474, -90.545416)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.92869, -90.55472)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.92308, -90.55623)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.851289, -90.520365)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.924887, -90.551087)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.837691, -90.508450)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.917507, -90.545529)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.872537, -90.500626)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.87253, -90.50062)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.87253, -90.50062)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.842034, -90.448133)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.829794, -90.541641)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.95479, -90.55346)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.82979, -90.54164)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (37.922744, -90.551229)

(2013) •
View Details

Untitled (38.267887, -90.373256)

(2013) •
View Details