Having grown up in Mammoth Lakes, California, in the shadows of the towering Sierra Nevada mountains, photographer Joshua Olley has always been drawn towards America’s vast, dream-like landscapes and the diverse characters who populate them.
Olley’s latest project, titled Cry Like a Man, sees him scratch at the social and economic structures of the American West. Via sprawling deserts, isolated skele-towns and man-made structures, his images explore how humans interact with these environments. While not all the images were actually taken in the US, to Olley, they defy geographic location by tapping in to the same visual codes and uninhibited mentality that he so strongly associates with his country of birth. Here, he captures a new Wild West as timestamps of intimacy and ambiguity: “where the time and place isn’t revealed through its content.”
Below, Olley selects six of the images included in the project and talks us through each one.
“Walking down the lower east side in Manhattan, I walked passed a bar where these two younger men were talking outside. They were acting like best friends that hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. One was dressed like most kids in the LES dress and the other was dressed in a Marine Corps Uniform. The scene reminded me of my friends back home and how people take different paths.”
“Christchurch, New Zealand. My grandfather was on his death bed and I spent eight days in his room watching him slowly pass away. The way he was positioned in his bed and the drapery of his blankets reminded me of the painting, The Death if Marat by Jacques Louis David.”
“This image was taken at a tri-county fair in Bishop, California which is the adjacent town to where I grew up. The fair happens every year at the end of the August. When I was young, everyone went to the fair–it was a time of hanging out late, riding rides, seeing the rodeo and flirting with girls. This scene especially struck me because I felt like it represented the end of my youth.’
“Somewhere in the Nevada desert. For me, this scene resonates so well because of the freedom these wild donkeys have within the endlessly vast landscape that engulfs them.”
“Taken at Aunt Charlie’s, one of the last bars of its kind in the Tenderloin of San Francisco. I was living in the San Francisco at the time and Aunt Charlie’s was a bar that I frequented often. At twelve o clock on Tuesday and Thursday there would be a wonderful drag show. I ended up photographing the show as well as what went on backstage. This was one of my favourite moments from that time.”
“Puglia, Italy at a road side circus. For me this image is about the transformation out of adolescence and the desires that surround us. Although the image was taken in Italy, it could’ve been taken anywhere. There are roughly five images in the project that were taken outside of the United States. The ambiguity and timelessness they have is what I’m interested in. The time and place isn’t revealed through its content.”