The Intimate Ozarks of Terra Fondriest

In the heights of Arkansas, Terra Fondriest lives what she photographs. For thirteen years, the American has lived in the Ozark Mountains, a rural, muddy and green world where she chose to settle to start a family. The nearest neighbors are just under a kilometer away, they raise pigs. Terra and her family have forty chickens, which the children feed every morning before going to school. Her daughter was born in 2011, her son two years later.

The photographer, almost self-taught, first focused on the isolation of her family life, capturing childhood “in nature”, which she says she never had in town. Then it was towards the other members of the community of the Ozark Mountains that she directed her lens, to capture a way of life as a whole..

In 2017, she embarked on a project that she imagines will last at least ten years. In the intimacy of their daily lives, she documents the lives of the inhabitants of the plateau, “far from stereotypes”, deliberately close to his subjects and even “directly concerned” since she shares their life. For Terra, what we find in the media does not reflect “the plurality and depth of people who live in rural areas”. So she offers her own vision, hoping that those who look at her work “will have the impression of being immersed in this environment”.

Know before photographing

Death is an integral part of rural life. “Our red meat, we hunt it ourselves. The children seem to understand where the content of their plate comes from”, she observes. Her camera is never far away, but Terra doesn’t wander around with the aim of taking portraits of the people she meets. She first goes to meet them because she “takes an interest in others”, the picture “is secondary”. She photographs her neighbours’ weddings or their babies, offers an album for birthdays… Over the years, trust is built. And now when Terra pulls out her camera, “it seems natural”, for her and others. “I’m a bit like the crazy neighbor who takes pictures”, she laughs.

It is mainly the light that pushes Terra Fondriest to immortalize the scenes “the most picturesque”. It then gives way to the vagaries of life: an animal encountered during a walk, an unexpected encounter in town. She is also guided by the eye of her children, to whom she sometimes lends a device:

“Where I would tend to immortalize an entire scene, they focus much more on the small details.”

From his first shots, taken in the exercise of his old trades, without following a narrative thread, Terra Fondriest took the time to grasp the trivial. Then over a patiently constructed work, she attempts to categorize her project into sequences. She was thinking of ending it in seven years, when her daughter will have finished high school. “But frankly, I’ll probably never really stop.”

The photographer: Terra Fondriest

Terra Fondriest was born in 1983 in the suburbs of Chicago. She soon leaves town after high school to become a forest firefighter and riding instructor. In 2009, she moved to the Ozark Mountains, Arkansas, where her first child was born. She then embarked on a titanic documentary work, still in progress, which tells the story of rural American life with a desire for authenticity. It is published in the New York Times where the washington post.

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