A Natural Order by Lucas Foglia
Photographer Lucas Foglia grew up on a small farm in the suburbs of New York, a halfway house between the socalled civilized world and the more secret realm of off-the-grid self-sufficiency. For his book, “A Natural Order,” Foglia traveled around and captured images of people who go all the way in their rejection of what most Americans would term a normal life, and in doing so reveals not only the commonalties that you hope are there, but the alien qualities of such an existence that don’t magically disappear once you see the people and maybe recognize a little something in them.
Specifics are vague in Foglia’s work — he doesn’t make it apparent upfront who these people are, why they are there, what they believe, etc. Because of that, some of the photos have the same effect as those you might see taken in South America of tribes that have had no contact with the outside world, staring up in dismay at the helicopter that photographs them. This is not in the literal sense — Foglia walks among his subjects, on equal ground — but the emotional impact for the viewer is similar. Foglia’s lens is not judgmental, just curious.
Foglia’s subjects run the gamut of what you would expect — families that don Mennonite and Amish fashions ( one can assume their turn away from the mainstream had something to do with religion) as well as wild-child hippie types, some modern primitive enthusiasts, perhaps an extreme libertarian or two who embrace rustic as an aesthetic — captured both in and out of their element.
Some stories can be parsed by careful examination. In one photo from Tennessee, a girl, named Valarie, peers into a barn, looking fearful. It’s uncertain whether it’s Foglia’s presence, or that of the man in the hat, whose shadow Foglia has captured, that is the source of hesitation for her.
This, it seems, is the sister of Victoria, who we saw earlier tending to goats in the field, and will soon see again in a family portrait that has dad holding a photo of mom on their wedding day, revealing that the plain woman before us was once a gaudy bottle-blond bridezilla.
In the next photo, one of the girls — or another one in the same community — faces their home-school blackboard, cramped with words in such a way that it must be the state of the grown-up’s mind.
Hints of dystopian fiction — Huxley and Orwell terminology is on the board — mix with words like “new world order” and “doomsday” — the dark side of natural living.
Elsewhere in the book, Foglia captures people who spend time reconnecting by living in rags in primitive conditions on what is known as the primitive living circuit, like some survivors living in a postapocalyptic world, alternately amusing and creepy. The question there is whether they are only playing at such a life.
All gathered, Foglia’s photos are alluring and mysterious, and certainly beg for more information— which is certainly not his duty. But the faces and the scenery that he captures, filled with hints about what lurks both behind and beside the photos, speak to anyone who would look at them, and they seem to say, “Ask me more. I want to tell you.”