Photographer Michael Schoenfeld‘s regular journey between Utah and Idaho is more than just a commute; it’s a meditation on time and change amidst the high desert landscapes. As he travels, an old Idaho building served as a constant until a frayed American flag momentarily appears, prompting reflection. This fleeting symbol captured not only a Graphis Photography 2023 gold award but also the essence of a nation’s story, blending resilience with weariness.
By: Michael Schoenfeld
I spend a third of my time in Salt Lake City Utah, a third on the road working, and the best third, in central Idaho with my partner. I mostly drive between Idaho and Utah because that affords me time to relax, think, and catch up on my reading (audiobooks are one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century). I drive because flying takes almost the same amount of time door to door, and driving is a wonderful way to experience the high desert lands of both states. Majestic places I’m privileged to call home.
I drove past this abandoned Idaho building dozens of times in the past few years. Nothing ever changed with the structure or the beautiful Idaho landscape surrounding it, except its slow, inevitable decay. Often, rural America feels like time stands still. But the reality is change is occurring at such a rapid pace that we have an almost impossible task, trying to just keep up.
On a recent trip, a tattered American flag appeared over the doorway, and I realized it said so much to me about where we are as a nation. Old, durable, but fractured and frayed. I have always been a person who is quick to react and photograph something that moves me, and, as I have gotten older I’ve realized waiting for the right time almost always misses the moment. I exited the interstate, wound my way down a side road, and made this image.
To no surprise to me, a few weeks later the flag was gone.
I believe a good photograph should try and be as layered in how you interpret it as possible. Some meanings reveal themselves long after your initial emotional response spurs the desire to stop and do your thing. America in decline? America weathered, but strong?
Or just a pile of old wood, and an American shouting, “I am here!?”
I’ve always harbored an inner desire to understand and experience darn near everything; the “grown-up gets to live out the childhood ultimate field trip fantasy” thing. But I grew up, (sort of) and realized even the most insomniac-ridden among us only gets the same 24 hours. Lord knows I am truly grateful for this life; I’d be an idiot and a jerk if I wasn’t. But what I have come to appreciate about my slightly scattered mind is a need to explore the omnipresent connections “between” things.
I am the metaphor king, or so I’m told.
Feels a little like putting on a coat only Wes Anderson could love, and everyone you know says, “It fits nicely Michael, go with it.”
(They also tell me not to talk so much).
As a native of Utah, the “Beehive State” is a wonderful place to practice advertising photography, skiing, outdoor sports, child rearing, adult rearing, filmmaking, and keen observation; not kidding about that.