American Falls happens to be named perfectly for this global moment. The town is, no kidding, the seat of Power County. It also happens to be, according to Wikipedia, the first American town to be entirely relocated, in 1925, to create the dam.
Davis's artist statement for his show of photographs at James Harris Gallery gives a little background:
Overlooking southeastern Idaho's Snake River—tamed and fattened by a massive dam, illuminated by brilliant sunsets—American Falls seems to be dying a death that is as slow as it is unspectacular. The local businesses of the past are all but gone, devoured by monsters like Walmart—25 miles from town. Agriculture, the primary source of the town's economy has also felt the corporate bite. Family farms that made Idaho known for their "Famous Potatoes" are disappearing in favor of giant farms controlled by international conglomerates. A future coal gasification plant for fertilizer production is seen by many as the town's best hope.
Steve Davis moved to Idaho when he was ten. The artists states, “(The joke is) none of my family members who chose to stay in Idaho got out alive. The economy, agricultural pollution, the wind and the cold make this town a place not for the weak or fainthearted. In spite of the challenges that face American Falls, people make lots of babies. They go to churches, go to bars, and many, while still young and independent, just go; as did the town's namesake—destroyed by the very dam that irrigates the crops that feed us.”
Davis's photographs cover a wide range of approaches to documentation, even self-consciously so. The crisp right-hand half of Davis's photograph of a man sitting alone at a bar with his beer and cigarette could be a stock image in any hard-luck series. But on the left-hand half of the picture, the image dissipates into pure light and reflection, sliding into soft oblivion, or escape. The obdurate brick surface of the bar is seen in another picture, a deadpan portrait of its exterior under a gray sky.
The titles of the pictures are divided into types: fields, landscapes, people's names, nouns. Field #2 and Field #3 are a nice pair; #2 is an idyllic shot of a green field bursting with tiny white flowers (the famous Idaho potatoes) under a blue sky; #3 is a dose of artifice that's more real. What looks like plain old grass reflects an almost neon sheen as a stream of fertilizer falls on it, the stream stretching across the top of the picture like a coal-dust rainbow. The scale is unsettlingly unclear, as in Landscape #13, a picture of toy trucks in a tilted sandbox that, because of the angle, look about to drive onto the real highway above them.
And Davis gives formal, not just narrative, gifts: The prom court is a blur of colors beneath a crystal-clear moon. An illuminated cross is starting its shift, taking over from the sun, casting an impossibly beautiful blue light on a desolate spot where a silver light jumps back from the windows of lonely houses.
Davis's version of American Falls is not anytown, but in many ways it might also be the place you left, or are thinking about leaving, and you might recognize it. There's a man sitting at a desk in front of an imposing safe, but the safe door is just flung open and he sort of stares off. He's the mayor.