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Series: "Playas". In photographing Playas I have endeavoured to create an in-depth portrait of this New Mexico town. While I have focused on the way that the Department of Homeland Security is now using the place as a real life training centre against terrorist attacks, I have equally tried to show it in its broader historical and geographical contexts. Its people once experienced the town as a site of work, family and leisure. Today that time-honoured way of experiencing place is morphing into something quite different. The old supermarket and the former post office are now home to classrooms where government agents are trained to spot, engage and overcome all manner of possible threats – suicide bombers, anthrax terrorists, water supply poisoners and bomb makers. Streets, houses, kitchens and sitting rooms that until recently were the backdrop for everyday lives have been turned into stage-sets for all these potential catastrophes. The nearby copper smelter was the reason the mining giant Phelps Dodge built Playas back in the early 70s. Closed in 1999, its rusting hulk is a picture of obsolescence. To meet the people who once worked here is to be reminded that the times we live in are interested less in the old imperative of production and more in conjuring up a fictive world, where everyone is obliged to join in with the game of make-believe. The business of manufacturing has been replaced by the business of fabrication, as though a straight-up reality is no longer viable, either economically or as lived experience. Yet something of a direct, unmediated reality necessarily persists. In the vast high desert landscape that surrounds Playas with its unexpected variety of flora and fauna. And in the people who stayed on and continue to wrest their living from the land by cattle ranching and hunting. If such a straightforward existence appears to have a touch of Eden about it then, like the copper mines that sit like open sores on mountainsides across this part of the world, it is also evidence of the tension that has long existed here between man and nature. In a further twist a tension between the real and the fake has now also arisen. Sponsored by the US government, Playas has become a laboratory for all manner of imaginary disasters, its streets and houses used as a backdrop to project an illusory and apocalyptic version of the future onto the country’s physical and mental landscapes. The town’s 50-odd residents are on the frontline of this fundamental shift in the way America is attempting to forge both itself and the wider world. Jason Oddy, May 2005
Signature: Signed, titled & editioned in pencil verso
Image rights: © Jason Oddy/Gallery Vassie. All rights reserved.