Pie Town Revisited is an exploration of history and memory through photography.
Pie Town is a remote community on the Continental Divide in New Mexico, about 160 miles southwest of Albuquerque. Population: 70, maybe. It has no stores, no sidewalks, not even a stoplight. It’s the kind of place most people see in a blur as they speed by on US 60. But Pie Town is worth a stop for, yes, a piece of pie and a slice of life as few Americans live it. That’s exactly what photographer Russell Lee did in 1940 and what I did following in his footsteps some seventy years later.
Lee visited Pie Town while working as a photographer documenting Depression-era America for the Security Administration (FSA). He was so impressed with the pioneer spirit of the homesteaders he met that he made more than 600 photographs in Pie Town, the most of any place documented in the entire FSA file. Inspired by Lee’s work and motivated to see FSA photography anew, I began Pie Town Revisited in 2011.
To create this series I re-photographed a selection of Lee’s pictures in Pie Town, making visual juxtapositions that merge or contrast past and present. At the same time, I imagined myself as an FSA photographer documenting what happened to the pioneer spirit that had so impressed Lee. What emerged evokes William Faulkner’s quote, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”
Roy Stryker, the head of the FSA photo unit, said that the goal of FSA photography was to “introduce America to Americans.” In doing so, the pictures would help unite citizens despite their differences. That goal still resonates in our polarized times. In this spirit, I introduce to you a few Americans and the place they call home, Pie Town.
A story about Pie Town Revisited will air in an upcoming broadcast of the NBC News magazine show, Rock Center with Brian Williams.