I travelled again to Wheeler county last weekend, the snow has now mostly melted making both traveling and shooting far easier. My first stop was in Spray, where I had scheduled to photograph a young resident named Emily. I had met Emily earlier in the year when she was cheerleading at a Spray school basketball game. Her mother Megan, who also coaches the cheer team, has been incredibly welcoming and very open to the idea of me photographing her daughter for this project. Emily lives with her family on the outskirts of Spray which has a population of 160. Emily tells me that she is one of only 6 students in her 5th grade class, with 62 students in the entire Spray School district. Last year, there was a graduating class of three, with Emily’s elder brother Robbie as the valedictorian. On the high school level, the school, like several others in rural Oregon, augments its budget by enrolling out-of-state and international students who are housed in a dormitory. Emily is a cheerleader for her school’s basketball team, the Mitchell-Spray Eagle-Loggers. Mitchell and Spray school districts combine players to make up the numbers for a full team.
On the day of the shoot, the weather was still somewhat adverse, I had scheduled the shoot for late in the afternoon, hoping for good natural light, but unfortunately it remained quite flat. Emily is also still getting to know me, you can see that we are not yet fully comfortable with one another in the images, which are quite staged or posed. Although I’m not sure if any of these images will make the final edit, it was wonderful to spend more time with Emily, I continue to be impressed by the character of the young people who live in this region. I believe that her family are growing more comfortable with me and hope to continue to collaborate with them. I plan to return to Spray soon and take some environmental portraits of Emily, and the rest of her cheerleading team in their uniforms.
On the second day of my trip, I returned to Mitchell. This has become my ’home base’ in Wheeler County and my aim is to spend an extended period of time here making work there in the summer of this year. I was able to get some strong portraits of some of the town’s residents on this trip, as I become more familiar to people there. One photo which I believe to be particularly successful is of Glenn Raber, shown above. With such small populations, residents in towns like Mitchell are often required to take on many, often voluntary, roles in order for the town to function. Glenn is no exception, I caught him on his Sunday morning rounds as a garbage collector, but he is also the town’s Internet installer, computer repairman, handyman, city councilman and fire chief.