Justin Kimball, professor of art, received a photography fellowship five years ago to support a project of his choosing. Building on a previous body of work, he decided to document in photographs some of the effects of the nation’s economic downturn.
Visiting small towns brought to the brink of obsolescence by the financial downturn, and capturing their streets, residents and landscapes in photographs both sensitive to their subjects and compositionally striking, Kimball’s recent work examines a growing, yet often overlooked, portion of the American landscape, providing an impressive portrait of the present day.
In his own work and in the courses he teaches at Amherst, Kimball says he encourages himself and his students to examine the concept of what it means to be human in the world today, and to find the tools necessary to bring ideas to fruition.
What made you decide to tackle this topic of economic prosperity, or lack thereof?
I started thinking about it when I was finishing my last project, Pieces of String, where I was looking for abandoned homes and photographing the vestiges of the individuals who had lived there in order to piece together what I imagined were their stories. Through that process, I kept finding myself in towns that were somewhat defunct.
It was right around the last presidential election, and I remember listening to the news as I was driving through these places where there’s no real economy left—where the only things left are bars, dollar stores and pizza joints—and I realized there was little to no national discussion of how these people are really living. Economically speaking, they’re really struggling. And so I just started photographing.