This summer I took a class of my college students from Parsons to Keliy Anderson-Staley’s studio in Long Island City. I had met Keliy last September when she was assisting Eric Taubman in his wet plate collodion workshop at the Center for Alternative Photography. In addition to wet plate, she also works in large format color photography; and I really liked the latest series of images she is working on, a project called Off The Grid. Several of the 30 x 40 C-prints from that series were hanging in her studio. I was particularly drawn to the images below.
Off the Grid: Unplugged in the Maine Wilderness (2004-2008) documents twenty families who live in owner-built homes without modern amenities such as electricity, running water, plumbing, phones, or computers. The series includes portraits, landscapes and architectural photographs captured across the four seasons. As many of my subjects use the sun as their main energy source, my photographs are deeply concerned with light: an outhouse half-hidden in the dark edge of the forest during sunset, light streaming into a cluttered room through a skylight, and bright daylight glinting off a frozen lake. Labor, wood, ice, and the forest run through the project as unifying visual motifs. The images were all made with medium and large format color negative film and enlarged by hand to 30 x 40″ C-prints.
Having been raised in a log cabin like these, I am interested in exploring the tensions between the utopian idealism of my subjects and the physically demanding realities of their lifestyle. Many of these families moved to Maine during the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s. Although all of them make use of alternative energies, their ethnic and educational backgrounds vary widely, as do their religious and political affiliations, which range from anarchism to socialism to fundamentalism. The low-impact, environmentally sustainable way these families live predates the fashionable green movement but can be seen as its extreme manifestation. I see the combination of living close to nature with efficient, solar-driven technologies as a model for future responses to the global environmental crisis.
— Keily Anderson-Staley