A Pink Flamingo Explores The Oregon Trail

Documentary photographer Jack Latham is just about to release his first book ‘A Pink Flamingo‘, a beautifully documented photographic journey taken along the Oregon Trail.

Union, Nebraska at sunset. All images © Jack Latham/INSTITUTE
Union, Nebraska at sunset. All images © Jack Latham/INSTITUTE

The book takes its name from the fabulously kitsch bright pink plastic flamingo designed by Don Featherstone in 1957 and Latham says;

“I saw the flamingo almost as a parody of the American flag. When America planted the flag in the moon, they were saying, this is my land. When people followed the Oregon Trail, moving east to west, they foisted a flamingo in their gardens as though to say, this is my home.”

The Oregon Trail is a 2,200 mile route between the Missouri River and Oregon and was first established by fur trappers and later emigrants in the early 1800s. It was eventually used by over  400,000 settlers, ranchers, farmers and miners looking for a better future in more prosperous lands before the first transcontinental railway was built making the journey through the Midwest much safer and faster.

Latham first learned of the Oregon Trail when playing the Oregon Trail Game as a child and decided to explore the route after considering the impact the financial crash of 2008 had on families that never made it to the end of the trail;

I was interested in this idea of travelling west as a metaphor for the hope that things will get better. The Midwest is talked about in terms of ‘the flyover states’ – places like Wyoming and Nebraska are quite forgotten. A lot the people I met were facing financial uncertainty – people who lived in motels, some who lived in cars, hitchhikers, people who were in between jobs, who’d started a new family; all of them were, I felt, a good representation of where America was then. There’s this phrase, which I loathe, but it does sum it up: ‘the failure of the American dream’. This ideal that anyone can go to America and have a semi-detached house and a car is not a reality for many people in the Midwest.”

Mitch outside a liquor store in Pendleton Oregon. All images © Jack Latham/INSTITUTE
Mitch outside a liquor store in Pendleton Oregon. All images © Jack Latham/INSTITUTE

Shot over three years, Latham made several long trips along the route, often sleeping in his car and using scratch cards as a chance way to decide if he slept in a motel or not. This was Jack’s way of connecting with the earlier pioneers of the trail and creating an undetermined, unexpected path for his photographic journey. Latham explains;

“I wanted that element of risk. If you go in with too much of a preconceived idea you end up biasing yourself so I just let things happen by chance. When the pioneers were travelling west, they never knew what the next day held, nothing was planned except from getting from A to B. I wanted to replicate that in the way I worked.’

Crossroad at night. All images © Jack Latham/INSTITUTE
Crossroad at night. All images © Jack Latham/INSTITUTE

The book has been beautifully presented with some very nice features including scans of Jack’s scratch cards, a removable map and an opening essay by Dai George. It is filled with strong images made from clean compositions that invite you to stop and take notice of the people and places set within a wider landscape with the well thought out approach of a photographer firmly in touch with his subject.

'A Pink Flamingo' by Jack Latham. All images © Jack Latham/INSTITUTE
‘A Pink Flamingo’ by Jack Latham. All images © Jack Latham/INSTITUTE

‘A Pink Flamingo’ will be launched at Cardiff’s Diffusion Festival this October and is available on preorder for £25 until the 1st October, with the first 100 copies sold containing a special edition Pink Flamingo scratch card (scratch off three flamingoes in a row to win a limited edition print). Here’s a nice preview of what’s inside:


Jack Latham is documentary photographer based in Brighton, UK. All images have been used with his explicit permission. If you would like to buy a copy of his first monologue, ‘A Pink Flamingo’ you can do so here

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