“The road has taught me what I know today," Hunter Barnes says. "For years I’ve travelled with my cameras capturing moments of time with the people the road has led to me. These are the stories I have waited to tell.”
Hunter Barnes’ black and white silver gelatin photographs, made and hand printed by the artist, devoted his life to documenting America’s disappearing sub cultures and fringe groups for the past 15 years.
The journey, the subject of a new photobook and exhibition at the Serena Morton gallery in London, has been, he says, “a spiritual journey into what is unknown and worlds rarely seen.”
The exhibition – spanning fifteen years on the road – documents the people and aspects of American culture and communities who choose to live outside mainstream life, evangelicals, criminals, bikers and nomads whom are “consistently misrepresented in the modern American narrative”.
Barnes builds friendships with the people he photographs. He’s willing to spend years gaining their trust, sharing experiences, developing a “meaningful dialogue” before they allow him access to their private worlds, allowing him to frame them as they are.
Witness his description of meeting the native American tribute the Ne Mee Poo/Ni Mii Puu. He met and befriended a leader called Uncle Irving at the Tamkaliks Pow Wow at the Lapwai Idaho Reservation reservation in Wallowa Oregon.
“Once I was invited as a trusted friend to the Lapwai Idaho Reservation, I was introduced to the families that fill this body of work. There was much time laughing and hanging out, getting to know everyone before the pictures truly started to open up.
“After a couple of seasons I was invited by my friends to visit The Confederated Tribes of The Colville Reservation, in Washington, where I was embraced by the bands that populate this land. I camped and began meeting more people that summer, where I stayed until my return in the winter.”
In the foreword to Roadbook, Nathaniel Kilcher writes: “Hunter leads with modest curiosity, expectation suspended, the journey his calling. He seeks out forgotten quarters and the stories concealed there.”
“To be able to form a bond with such disparate communities as the Rednecks, Nez Perce, Bloods, Serpent Handlers, CA State Prisoners, Bikers and Lowriders, is a rare thing,” said Michael Shulman, Director of Publishing at Magnum Photos, in his afterword.
“These are people that would probably not be at the same party, but Hunter has found something to share with all of them. They have all taken him in to their families and lives, for a while, and now we are privileged to see the result of that trust.”
Hunter shoots exclusively in analogue using black and white, using film stock that he develops in a darkroom, rather than digital imagery. “In the end, film provides a fitting metaphor for the entire process: it takes a long time to earn the trust of these people, and it takes time to commit them to paper,” he says.
“Contemporary American culture has led to a homogenization and flattening of uniqueness and eccentricity but the people depicted here have managed to hold on to what makes them special. They are exuberantly out of the mainstream, and each group is like their own fiefdom,” Shulman says.