Michael Thomason

The Gift

The Gift is the result of a summer of ethnographic fieldwork in Western North Dakota. This region is part of the Bakken, an oil rich geological formation that has recently provided the conditions for an oil boom and, with it, the dreams of American independence from foreign oil supplies.

Yet that meta-political view held little interest for me.

Instead, my concern revolved around the lived experience of migrants who arrive in the Bakken hoping for a fresh start. I attempted to understand how the hopes and dreams of new arrivals were projected onto the landscape and how that landscape simultaneously appeared as promise and threat. For, while giving people a fresh start and the promise of a better future, the unstable nature of the commodity form – here, oil – means that relocating to a boom region represents a dangerous leap of faith: things might not work out; the boom might tail off; workplace accidents are common; family and friends are absent; rates of drug and alcohol abuse are high.

Through producing a photobook and accompanying short story I have explored the subtle aesthetics and subjective formations that are engendered in this environment. My exhibition prints are accompanied with excerpts from my story.

With a background in human geography, my documentary practice is informed by post-structuralist theories of the distributed subject, a Foucualdian understanding of power, and the affect theory of Lauren Berlant and Sarah Ahmed. In refusing a journalistic methodology and instead producing an allegorical body of images and fiction I attempt to subject myself to the dangers of that which was long ago proclaimed dead: authorship.

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