A Rough and Nomadic Existence

“There is a loose tribe living at nature’s margins in the United States, slaughtering goats raised by hand at Idaho’s Lost River and picking cherries growing wild in California’s Marble Mountain Wilderness. Seattle-based photographer Adrain Chesser followed some of these wanderers from 2006 to 2012, capturing scenes of a rough and nomadic existence.
return cover 2
In collaboration with ritualist Timothy White Eagle, and with support from a Kickstarter campaign, Chesser published The Return this April with non-profit Daylight Books. Clad in an embossed cardboard cover with poetry and minimal text from White Eagle, Chesser’s book is full of quiet pauses. Sweeping western landscapes dwarf his subjects, and portraits show the contemporary hunter-gatherers as they shift their homes by the season across Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, and Northern California. While the tattoos on arms, green hair dye growing out, and a poignant scene of one subject wearing buckskin in Burger King keep the transformation away from society incomplete, there is a distinct distance from the urban world. White Eagle writes:
‘The subjects in The Return are predominantly not indigenous. Most carry European ancestry, and most come in one form or another from the disenfranchised margins of mainstream America. Most are poor, some are queer, some are transgender, some are hermits, and some are politically radical. All believe that major shifts are needed in the way modern society interacts with the natural world.”
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White Eagle and Chesser met at a 2007 ceremony in Tennessee, each interested in this symbiotic relationship with nature. White Eagle’s writing tends to embrace more of an idealization of returning to the root fields and abandoned orchards from an American Indian culture that was moved aside by American settlers’ brutal Manifest Destiny, while Chesser’s photographs are less gentle, showing the hardships along with the beauty…
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The book can feel like a call to arms to detach from destructive modernity, and to “consider the whole in […] every daily action, and in consideration of the future,” yet it also leads you to consider what it means when you declare “king’s x” to the industrialized world. As Chesser’s photographs show in almost every frame — with the mass-produced clothes and glimpses of concrete roads that stretch even into the most remote of places — modernity clings to you like a burr.”

“The Return Hardcover” by Timothy Eagle (Author), Adrain Chesser (Photographer)
Daylight Books (April 30, 2014)

“From 2006 to 2012, Seattle-based photographer Adrain Chesser (born 1965) and Native American ritualist Timothy White Eagle traveled throughout the western states of Nevada, Idaho, California and Oregon with a loose band of comrades, practicing a hunter-gatherer way of life. This bold adventure necessitated the collective rearing, killing and cooking of animals, foraging for berries, sleeping outdoors or creating shelter and surviving harsh terrain. Chesser and White Eagle’s experiment produced the body of work titled “The Return”, a lyrical portrait of a contemporary nomadic existence.” Give back more than you take” is a well-known tenet of early hunter-gather societies, and “The Return” is a complex exploration of the attempt to implement this mythic ideal as it intersects with the reality of modern life.”
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“”The Return” fuses documentary and fine art to create a portrait of a people that live wild and free, untethered from society. Punctuating the images and providing further context are the lyrical texts and poetry of Timothy White Eagle, and others, based on the legends, folktales and mythology of Native American Indians.
White Eagle describes the subjects of “The Return” as coming from the disenfranchised margins of mainstream America. He writes, “Most are poor, some are queer, some are transgendered, some are hermits, and some are politically radical. All believe that major shifts are needed in the way modern society interacts with the natural world … Perhaps poetically; those attempting to live these ideals could be viewed as a rainbow tribe. In their search they struggle to be released from old ways of being. Cars, soda pop, cell phones and cigarettes follow them. Convenience has a magnetic power. Addictions, cravings, and desires are hard to break. These pioneers seek a new way in the world, while still learning to let go of the old.”
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