The unforgettable images in That Day: Pictures in the American West, Laura Wilson’s new book of photographs, tell sharply drawn stories of the people and places that have shaped, and continue to shape, the dynamic and unyielding land known as the western United States. As Rick Brettell writes in the Dallas Morning News, “She has made powerful images imbued with a stubborn humanism — the pictorial embodiment of her respect for the diverse men and women who live in the hardscrabble environments she prefers.”
Text from Wilson’s journals accompanies the photographs in this stunning collection; in the journal entries, she recalls personal experiences behind the camera at the moment when a particular image was captured. Here’s a photo of an Oglala Sioux family taken on this day 19 years ago, along with the accompanying journal entry.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, December 14-15, 1996
When you are on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, you cannot help but feel a sense of desperation. This reservation, in one of the poorest areas of the United States, is sparsely populated and far from urban job opportunities. With 80 percent unemployment, the prospects for those with hopes of breaking out of seven or eight generations of profound poverty are slim. Alcoholism affects eight out of ten families; one in five babies is born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
For more than a hundred and fifty years, both the federal and tribal governments have tried a series of often conflicting and seldom successful ways of improving living conditions among the Oglala Sioux. Today, the Pine Ridge Reservation is still burdened by those same problems–generational poverty, chronic unemployment, and rampant alcoholism. When this series of photographs was first published in the Washington Post Magazine in 2007, the editor rejected many of them for being too difficult and upsetting for readers of a weekend magazine. Yet they show the truth of reservation life. If we can’t even look at these problems, then how will they ever be solved?