A photography statement
Jack P. Hursh Jr. wants his landscape pictures to send a message against urban sprawl
Let’s start by putting the controversy right at the top: Jack P. Hursh Jr. hates Californians.
“This is about Nevada, not California,” he says. “I hate Californians for the reason that they’re ruining Nevada by importing urban sprawl. The alfalfa fields are being replaced by Wal-Marts and Home Depots. This is going backwards.”
As evidence that the old, natural, unpaved Nevada is better than the new, artificial, asphalt-laden one, Hursh offers up his photography, which is on display through March at the Artists Co-op Gallery of Reno. All of Hursh’s pictures show a part of Nevada that people in urban areas rarely see, even if they drive by it every day.
Hanging on the back wall of the gallery is the biggest image of the bunch: “Valley Road Barn.” The award-winning photograph is a technically impeccable shot of an old, wooden barn, shot from an angle. A corner of the barn is directly in front of us; an old wagon is parked along the side closest to us, right up against a tree with no leaves (it must be winter). The clouds in the sky are moving by. It looks like a storm is coming in.
It seems that the photo is trying to tell us something: Everything in the photo points to the sky, toward the right upper corner of the picture. The closest tree’s branches point that way. The wagon seems angled that way, too, leading our eye to the barn’s A-framed roof, which points to a cloud that is angled that way. It’s like the roof is a ramp into the sky.
It is an amazing shot out of rural Nevada’s past. But in actuality, the shot was taken in 1998, and the barn is not in some rural outpost. As the title says, this barn is on Valley Road, near Manogue High School.
Hursh says he’s trying to make an artistic statement with this photograph and the others in the exhibit.
“It’s these types of images that have been destroyed at a rapid rate and replaced by … Blockbuster Videos,” he says. “I find that pink malls and Taco Bells and traffic are extremely cold. It’s an extreme assault on our quality of life. I want to show the people who are moving here that this is what we’re all about.”
Hursh is a third-generation Nevadan and native Renoite. He split his childhood years between Michigan and Reno and graduated from the Michigan Technological University in 1989 with a degree in technological communications. He currently works as a cartographic technician for the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.
His interest in photography started out as a hobby, when he would go camping in the Nevada wilderness with his parents as a child.
“We’d go out in the desert, and I always had a little camera with me,” he says.
After becoming a full-time Reno resident after his graduation, he picked up landscape photography again. In 1994, he says, he started to take his photography “more seriously.”
“I realized there were really good things to take photos of in Nevada,” he says.
But just because there are good things to take pictures of, it doesn’t mean it’s easy to do them well. Hursh says he photographed the Valley Road barn 50 times before getting the shot.
“At the time, in that photo, everything looked right,” he says.
In other instances, though, he just happened upon the right place at the right time. Such was the case in “Hay Nevada,” a shot of two stacks of hay, with tire tracks in between leading to a ranch in the distant background. He happened across the site, near Eureka, at that perfect time in the late afternoon, when the hay glows a bright, golden color for just a few minutes.
“It was only one stop, boom, got it,” he says.
Yes, his photos send the message that rural Nevada can be spectacularly beautiful. But will his message against urbanization get through to the newcomers from the state next door?
“Who knows?" he says, sounding less than encouraged. "You can try, I guess."