2009 Winners - Runner-up: Keliy Anderson-Staley
Evocative of a sort of survivalist Dada—part log cabin and part Merzbau—the dwellings in Keliy Anderson-Staley’s (b. 1977) Off the Grid series are testaments to the lives and values of the people who built them. Blending a documentary approach with a topographic style, architectural interiors and exteriors accompany nuanced portraits to provide a fresh look at a lifestyle that is as progressive as it is atavistic.
Rooted in personal experience, these photographs are part of an ongoing project documenting the lives of a number of families who have—for political, economic, religious, or environmental reasons—chosen to make their homes in the Maine woods. Often using improvised construction techniques and salvaged materials alongside modern technologies such as laptops, cell phones, and solar and wind energy, Anderson-Staley’s subjects have crafted a way of life that is “green,” yet markedly distinct from the fad-like associations the term carries. Photographs of homes that began as projects nearly forty years ago appear alongside images of a new generation of solar-cell–clad eco-homes and other non-traditional structures, such as tents and lean-tos, profound in both their similarity to and difference from one another. Attention is drawn to the minor details—a tattoo indicating military service, handwritten signs and postcards—that point to a lifestyle that is as alternative as it is natural for those who choose it.
Intentionally sidestepping the romanticization of the matter at hand, the portraits included in Off the Grid hint at a complex relationship between the subjects and their lifestyle. The melancholy, lonely nature of rural life and the youthful angst brought on by such relative isolation, both of which are expressed in a number of Anderson-Staley’s photographs, are complicated by their juxtaposition with images of hopeful contentment and satisfaction. This is a project that, with sincere concern for the people depicted and their stories, does not preach a position, but rather explores an alternative.