Now based in San Francisco, Lucas Foglia is a graduate of the Yale University MFA photography program. Nazraeli Press published his first three monographs, A Natural Order (2012), Frontcountry (2014), and Human Nature (2017), to critical acclaim at home and abroad. Foglia’s work has been exhibited in the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, and his photographs are in the permanent collections of the International Center of Photography, New York; Foam Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, among others.
Foglia’s photographs in Southbound are the result of a sustained engagement with intentional communities in the South. They are drawn from his project, A Natural Order, which was inspired by his upbringing on a farm in New York state. Disconcerted at his own family’s striving to live back-to-the-land, canning home-grown foods and bartering their produce, for example, even as they amassed the trappings of modern life in the shape of tractors, cars, and computers, Foglia explores lives lived completely off the grid, for environmental, religious, or economic reasons, within communities in the southeastern United States. What he discovers is that even those people most determined to live on their own terms do not entirely abandon the modern world. Instead, they carefully select which elements to incorporate into their largely self-sufficient existence, be they cell phones or solar panels.
Notwithstanding the ubiquity of technology, Foglia’s photographs point to previous ways of being in the South, a place where rural life and farming remained the mainstays of the majority of the population longer than in other parts of the United States. It was a world where raw milk was the stuff of everyday rather than an issue for law enforcement, and where children learned to use firearms as a matter of course in order to hunt to feed their families. Photographs such as Andrew and Taurin Drinking Raw Goat’s Milk (2009) and Rita and Cora Aiming (2007), both made in Tennessee, transport us to such times. Foglia’s images, however, wonderfully complicate our vision. Once upon a time, a man did an honest day’s work trailing on foot behind the plough that turned the soil for his family’s sustenance; yet if his guiding hand still steers that plough in today’s South, it now may be dragged across Tennessee fields by a Toyota pickup truck, as seen in Lowell Cultivating with Pickup Truck and Ox Plow (2008).
Another image, this one reaching back across even longer timeframes, conjures still older ways of being in the world. The green and red colors and, particularly, the convex mirror seen in Foglia’s photograph titled David in His Wigwam, Kevin’s Land (2010) evokes the magnificent complexity of Jan van Eyck’s fifteenth-century masterpiece The Arnolfini Portrait. David’s mirror is probably a found object, likely a traffic safety mirror, but the grubby mattress, streams of melted candle wax, and jumbled paraphernalia make for a heady contrast with the ordered universe of the Italian merchant and his wife painted centuries ago. Yet in intention at least, Foglia’s subject evokes for viewers today a life reminiscent of the more Spartan existence of early modern Europeans, before the commodification of life cluttered our lives more and more deeply than ever could be suggested by the miscellany that fills the entranceway to David’s abode.
Foglia’s careful consideration of lives in small rural communities finds echoes in the work of fellow Southbound photographers such as Shelby Adams, Rachel Boillot, and Magdalena Solé, among others. His privileged access, likely a reflection of his own upbringing, imbues his portraits with particular immediacy.