Rory Fuller · The Old Spanish Trail

Mar 25, 2020

Rory is a British photographer who focuses his work on places where the man-made and wilderness are in close contact and therefore their interaction is very special and attractive. In his series "The Old Spanish Trail", Rory portrays the landscapes of the Amargosa Basin in California, with its abandoned gypsum mines and few inhabitants. In this work, we can find minimalist takes that show the idealised romantic image of the 'Wild American West', and at the same time we can see the harshness that represents living at the edge of civilisation.

am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?

RF - Hello! My name is Rory Fuller, I’m a photographer from Brighton, England. I studied photography at Nottingham Trent University. I’m currently working as a freelance photographer and videographer between London and Brighton, sometimes working on projects abroad.


am - How did you start in photography?

RF -  I don’t have a humble story of how I started out, I sort of just stumbled into it. My grandad was a keen photographer and my family say I must have inherited it from him. However, my mum was always taking pictures so I like to think I picked it up from her. I found a hoard of slide film in the attic from when my dad was building our house in the 80s, which I absolutely love. I’m hoping to make it into a small photobook one day.


am - What inspires your work?

RF - I find a lot of inspiration comes from literature. Robert Macfarlane’s 'Wild Places' and Paul Farley’s 'Edgelands' taught me to search for forgotten and overlooked places closer to home here in the UK. That’s what led to my final year project at university. It was titled 'The Gravs' and I dissected post-industrial land use in the Midlands, focusing on a nature reserve outside Nottingham, known to locals as ‘the Gravs’ (gravel pits). It was a surreal place where recreation met industry – a landscape repurposed into an urban wilderness. After the pits closure, they were filled with water and the reserve was formed, masking the scars left behind by industry. To me, the reserve had come to represent post-industrial land use in Britain – the Midlands being a place steeped in industrial history. The series I created highlighted the incongruity of man-made places in the natural world.

I’m also interested in the cycles of places and people, industry, the sublime, and reclamation, all of which are recurring themes throughout my work. Ultimately, exploring new places is where I draw most of my inspiration, so simply walking has become a major source of inspiration. There are certainly times where you feel uninspired by your own work so I often pick up photobooks and outdoor magazines. Sometimes, seeing a single image can spark your imagination and make you want to get back out there and create. Photography has a way of physically immersing you in the world in a way that other mediums don’t. Particularly with landscape photography; going out into the world to create, visiting places you wouldn’t usually find yourself. Finding unfamiliar places on the edge of civilization or experiencing the sublime helps to put your own significance into perspective. I feel most at ease when I’m out on long hiking trails and exploring new places.

am - What is 'The Old Spanish Trail' about?

RF - In the fall of 2017, I spent two weeks working on a date plantation in the Mojave desert called 'China Ranch'. In the mornings I would fix the irrigation lines, which had been picked apart by coyotes. Then in the afternoons, I would follow the coyote trails through the canyons, down riverbeds and across the plains; exploring the unique wilderness around me and the people I met along the way. I was discovering something both new and ancient at the same time, the old American West was both living and fading simultaneously.

Just off the Old Spanish trail outside Tecopa, California lies the Amargosa Basin. The landscape is dotted with old gypsum mines and abandoned homesteads which once thrived due to the only free-flowing river in the Mojave Desert. Evidence of industry isn't always obvious, it leaves behind traces, yet the desert mud hills and flickering mesquite leaves conceal the old West in a mask of golden bronze and green.

This project still feels somewhat incomplete to me. I didn’t set out to make a series and the project was made at a transitional period in my life. But what I found interesting was the unintentional similarities between this project and my previous project 'The Gravs'. It was a place where recreation met the sublime, once a place of industry, now a place of recreation and conservation. Bird watchers, road trippers and bikers have replaced the 49er’s who once passed through the famous trail, seeking fortune in the old West.

'China Ranch' was sitting on the edge, a fine line between the comfort and security of civilisation and the unforgiving desert wilderness. What I find interesting is how we as humans like to tempt the sublime and so places like this, and the people who inhabit them will always inspire me to keep creating.

I find myself drawn to places that toe the line between civilization and the sublime, conformity and wilderness, the places that sit on the edge of that divide. Elements of this can often be seen in my work – the idea of transformation of place, through the reclamation of nature or encroachment of civilization on wilderness.


am - Who are your favourite photographers / artists?

RF - Richard Misrach, Stephen Shore, Edward Burtynsky, Catherine Hyland, Bryan Schutmaat to name a few...


am - What is your favourite movie?

RF - 'Lost in Translation' by Sofia Coppola.


am - What is your favourite photo book?

RF - 'Uncommon Places'; Stephen Shore. 'The Grays the Mountain Sends'; Bryan Schumaat. 'American Prospects'; Joel Sternfeld.


am - Thank you very much for your time and your contribution to analog magazine.

RF - Thanks for having me!

All images © Rory Fuller

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