A Natural Order

Lucas Foglia meets America's naturalists, who have embraced modern technology in their search for utopia

There is a certain romantic charm surrounding the idea of shunning city and suburban life in favour of a self-sufficient, rural retreat. And the search for an alternative lifestyle has certainly caught the public imagination, if the wealth of online resources detailing how to maintain such an existence is anything to go by.

New York-born photographer Lucas Foglia was raised in a home that combined modern conveniences with key back-to-the-land principles. This mixture of the new and the rustic left him eager to see what a completely self-sufficient way of living might look and feel like.

After travelling through the south-eastern United States for four years befriending, interviewing and photographing a network of naturalists who live off the grid and off the land, Foglia’s findings can be seen in his current exhibition, A Natural Order, at Belfast Exposed.

His photographs are suitably displayed in refreshingly large frames, allowing the scope of the depicted wilderness to be fully appreciated. Quotes from the people featured accompany many of the pieces, such as one astonishing image of a man milking a goat directly into his son’s mouth.

A Natural Order

 

Called simply as ‘Lowell, Tennessee’, the subject of this photograph explains how having just a few livestock makes a serious difference to his family’s life.

'A milk goat is the most valuable thing you can have. If they like you, they’ll go anywhere you go. They live off of nothing. They furnish you with meat. Before long you’ve got a herd of them. Take five milk goats and you can live anywhere in the world. With that and a sack of sweet potatoes, you’ve really got it made.'

Foglia’s expertly composed photographs are often as shocking as they are beautiful. Intrinsically linked with an unbridled sense of freedom for some, nudity features quite heavily throughout (a tender yet visually arresting image shows a man and daughter bathing naked in a river, for instance).

When we see people fully clothed they are generally dressed in traditional, plain garb or wearing animal skins. One piece shows a woman training a girl how to handle a shotgun. Both are dressed in Amish-style outfits, while another image depicts a man gleefully strumming on a banjo, adorned in various hides.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of A Natural Order is that it reveals a key truth about modern survivalism and the self-sufficient lifestyle that isn’t so widely discussed – that, although shunning the mainstream, none of the people Foglia met on his travels completely isolated themselves from it either.

Instead of wholly rejecting all facets of modern life, many of the subjects of these photographs chose the parts they wanted to bring with them, which makes for some fascinating juxtapositional photographs. So we see glimpses of computer screens (charged by car batteries and solar panels), National Geographic magazines and well known commercial cleaning products scattered around the rural scenes.

Such details reminds viewers that this is still the same America we visit, or that see on the news, or in the movies, even if these decidedly ‘normal’ artifacts are kept in log cabins, adjacent to bathtubs where freshly dressed animal carcasses are being cleaned.

Foglia’s beautifully documented work serves as a unique insight into an often inspirational, self-sufficient way of life that is at once stripped back and basic, yet in some sense remains inextricably linked with the modern world.

A Natural Order is on display in the main gallery of Belfast Exposed until March 8, 2013.