This article appears in the September Issue of VICE.
These photos are from Jim Mangan's upcoming book, Magic Rocks, which will be released at the New York Art Book Fair as a continuation of his book Bastard Child this September. We interviewed Jim to find out how exactly he landed The Road to Nowhere cover and the inspiration behind Magic Rocks.
VICE: Can you tell me a little about the location of the cover image? We love it because it looks like it's ongoing with a sci-fi feel.
Jim Mangan: The red walls of rock in the background of the image are the Vermillion Cliffs, AZ. I was on a road trip with my friend Brian Merriam and we were in an area, not too far from them, that I had been through many times and we were deciding which way to go. He traveled through Vermillion a couple years back an highly recommended checking them out by way of highway 89A heading.
As far as it having a Sci-fi feel to it, I always like to present the landscapes that I'm photographing as an alternate world view. Part of the idea is to provide photographs that not only cause one to feel like they're looking at something otherworldly, but hopefully inspires people to view their own environments with a different perspective, opening up new worlds and a new appreciation within the place they live daily.
You have a really unique perspective on landscape where most of your images become weird & grainy colorscapes that are difficult to distinguish. When did you start focusing on this kind of material vs. your imagery of people?
I started photographing my surrounding landscapes and thinking conceptually about their layers from the moment I began to view them with a purpose in 2010, which was the same time I was mostly focused on my figurative projects. I really started to lean more on the landscapes when my money ran dry in 2012. I could just drive a couple hours from where I lived in Utah and be in the middle of nowhere, camp, and shoot during the day without much of an expense. This is also a moment where I felt my entire perspective on things grew and sort of evolved. I kept going to the same spots over and over again creating a strong connection to the locations I was documenting. Although I was going back to the same places, the landscape presented itself differently each time I visited it. A vast majority of the photos that I have of the same area look completely different from one another, but at the same time connected.
The height you achieve in several of your photos really impresses me, what kind of vantage point are we talking?
Thank you! The photos from this series are taken from the ground, hillsides, mountain tops, and from a Cessna plane. I was able to get the Cessna plane for $25 an hour by splitting the cost of gas with a flight student. It was probably one of the luckiest situations I've had. Some of the images are presented intentionally without any sense of scale, but in many cases if you look closely at the more abstract images man's footprint is lurking, whether it's a tire track, an inanimate object or something figurative. It provides some context and a sense of scale without it being obvious.
A lot of these images to me could be stills out of a Sergio Leone film and I'm wondering if that Spaghetti Western vibe inspires you?
Yes! I'm a huge fan (overlooking the obvious bigotry, stereotypes and incredibly false representations of the American West!). Sergio really has a way of making the viewer feel as though we are there and participating in it; it becomes an escape from everyday life and we are 100% in the present as we watch; we wholly become each character. I really want to use an Ennio Morricone (composed all the music for Sergio's films) song for a short film, but it's just short being cliche at this point.
Out of all the VICE covers you've created, what was the most fun to make? I'm betting naked people in sand…but I could be wrong?
It's sort if a cop out to say, but really all the projects are very meaningful in their own way. We used Crisco to make the sand adhere to everyone's bodies in the Bedu series. That took a lot of convincing and a lot of perseverance on the part of everyone who participated. We were in the middle of the Little Sahara Desert, Utah in the late summer without an ounce of shade
Last question for personal gain, what is the most effective body paint brand for roaming on rocks?
We went 100% pure natural. It was pigmented bear fat. The pigments were made from flower and rocks. I purchased it from a Navajo woman in Utah.