London-based photographer Matt Ritson traveled with his brother Will through the western United States of California and Nevada, documenting on 35mm film their experience on the road. Beyond the arid landscapes and remote country towns, a sense of isolation led Ritson on an odyssey of personal growth; it was a valuable lesson in stillness amidst the noise of America’s shifting socio-political environment.
Ritson’s story begins at the point when he stumbled upon a church mounted on the Hill of Prayer in Felicity, a small town in rural California. The site became a kind of creative pilgrimage, where both Ritson and his brother captured images of nearby scenes that felt fitting to the experience. Their road trip continued on to reach Beatty in Nevada, a small town backdropped by desert landscapes. In his own words that follow, Ritson describes to us his experience—from his initial impression of the locals, to his personal realization that things are never as they appear.
“I’ve been taking photographs my whole life; my dad gave me my first camera to take pictures with on holiday and I never let it go. It’s my favourite way of recording. I wanted to capture the journey to Nevada almost like a diary, photographing each landscape we went through so I could remember how quiet and how empty it really was. Most of the people there have a story to tell, popping out of their shack, trailer, or truck, with invites to the local gun range and recounts of government bomb testing that wiped out a generation of ‘down-winders’. They seem to be okay with the comings and goings of everything around them, which appears to have either dried up or moved on, and won’t be back anytime soon.
With this came a profound realization, that what we tend to think of as emptiness is often harmful and a deeply personal vision. It felt like my brother and I were out to confront something together, there. Stood in the middle of nowhere with the reality of emptiness swallowing you up in every direction, with nowhere to go, nowhere else to be, and no self-delusion left to cling on to, you quickly learn to split your aces and accept that everything is going to be okay.”