The act of making a photograph requires one to be fully in the moment, attuned to the exquisite beauty of life and the eternal flow of time. For Charcoal Press publisher Jesse Lenz, photography anchors him inside a landscape that is internal and external at the same time, each image becoming a page from his autobiography written with light.
Hailing from Montana, at the age of six Lenz moved with his family to Latvia just months after the Baltic republic declared independence from the Soviet Union. He grew up traveling with a missionary father, before going on to tour with heavy metal bands in high school and college, then journeying across North America with his wife and kids in an Airstream trailer over the course of a year.
Four years ago, the Lenzes decided to settle down when the family farm his wife grew up on came up for sale. They purchased the property, where the family still works, in Wooster, Ohio, a rural area an hour south of Lake Eerie. Located in Holmes County, home to the largest Amish community in the United States, they own one of the many family-run farms nestled in the rolling hills.
But Lenz didn’t feel a sense of connection to the place until he dug in, the camera becoming a portal to the beauty of the land and the secrets it holds. In the new book, The Locusts (Charcoal Press), Lenz transports us into a magical realm where snakes slither through the grass, mice darting to and fro while hawks soar overhead, surveying the majestic countryside.
A Elegiac Slice of American Life
The Locusts is a tender portrait of a quiet corner of the world still wild and free, one ripe with symbolism, myth, and fantasy. Lenz invokes the romantic image of America as paradise found in resplendent images of his children set amid a pure and pristine landscape — an image of innocence that calls to us longingly. Here is a place unfettered by the horrors and despair of modernism run amok, destroying everything in its path with the failed promise of “progress.”
Lenz’s photographs recall not only a time before industrialization laid the earth to waste, but also a period in our own lives when the world was filled with wonder and awe — the very essence of childhood. Often staying low to the ground and looking up, Lenz sees life through the vantage point of his kids, convey the sheer spectacle and pleasure of being alive in and of itself.
The book takes its title from a creature that has long been considered a harbinger of destruction but at the same time has been used to feed prophets and holy men during times of pilgrimage and exile. “The word presents the complex relationship between anxiety and hope, blessing and curse, sin and salvation,” Lenz says. “The natural world, both paradise and wilderness, invites us to find for grace and hope inside the brokenness and imperfection of life. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, ‘Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes.’”
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, and websites including Time, Vogue, Artsy, Aperture, Dazed, and Vice, among others.
The Locusts is the November book-of-the-month of the Charcoal Book Club, launching November 1, 2020.
Jesse Lenz, The Locusts
Published by Charcoal Press