Ian Bates’ book ‘Meadowlark’ is a reminder to slow down

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Extract of
Excerpt from “Meadowlark”, published by Deadbeat Club, 2022. (Ian Bates)

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Ian Bates’ book “Meadowlark” (Deadbeat Club, 2022) opens with two photographs, one echoing the sublimity of nature and the other giving voice to the extraordinary often found in the mundane, everyday things that we usually ignore. And then right after that, we’re greeted by a poem by Jim Harrison, titled “I Believe.”

Harrison’s poem is a hymn to everyday things – thunderstorms, empty pools, brush piles, thickets, lakeside cottages. There is a comfort in these memories of ordinary things, a reminder of the drift of a life punctuated, here and there, by markers of life.

“Meadowlark” unfolds like Harrison’s poem. Bates’ photos are reminiscent of a wandering, searching soul. The landscapes are punctuated with encounters of people, both unique and multiple. Ah, these can be mistaken for the memories and things told by Harrison’s poem. In a sense, therefore, Bates’ work in this book is a visual explanation of the poem.

The book is reminiscent of, say, slow cinema – as Bates drifts with his camera, things unhurriedly reveal themselves. It’s a nice counterpoint to our increasingly frenetic pace of life. Sometimes the pace of life seems too fast, stuffy. Bates’ slow discovery photos are an antidote to our rushed lives.

Sometimes, many times, the depth of life and life is drawn in simplicity and not in complexity. And, ironically, this contributes to an abundance of wealth, as the saying goes, “sometimes less is more.”

Bates spent years driving across the vast expanse of the American West to shoot the “Meadowlark” photos. He often slept in his car. Here is the publisher’s description of the project:

“This is a project born out of both passion and patience, and although Bates was originally inspired by the Western Meadowlark – the state bird of North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Kansas and Nebraska – the bird ultimately proved elusive and only appears here once, as a crude facsimile painted on a piece of weathered plywood….

Bates’ photographs are full of things that disappear in plain sight. Like all photos, they are an imposition, but given the glorious anonymity of vast geographic swathes of the West and Plains states, they are also about respectful distance and space(s) between people, places, and things…

Every photographer basically explores outer space, but in “Meadowlark”, Bates is in deep space, and these are photos as reluctant as their subjects. This world doesn’t cultivate much silence, but it’s always there, a stealthy force, a glacier, and in the places it lives it can hear things coming from far away.

Yes, I think it’s true, “This world doesn’t cultivate much silence.” But maybe it should. Perhaps we should take a step back and move away from the white noise generated by our 24/7 always-connected lives. Perhaps we should brag about quiet things, the contemplation of things, rather than announcing the newest gadget, often of imminent use. Maybe we should let go of the idea that everything is a contest to separate the “winners” from the “losers”. Maybe we just need to drift more, taking note of the extraordinary in the ordinary. It is there, and this book is a vivid reminder of it.

You can see more of Bates’ work on his website, here. And you can buy “Meadowlark” on the publisher’s site, here.


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