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The sky is only as far as we can see

Through the combined use of landscape and portrait photography, Kiri Leigh Zullo makes use of our perception of people and place to explore her own family and homeland of Northeastern Montana
words & photography – kiri leigh zullo
location – montana, usa

The sky is only as far as we can see was shot over a period of four months in northeastern Montana, in the surrounding areas of Fort Peck Lake, where the landscape is undeveloped and extremely wild. Few have settled here in small towns and farms, where life is ruled by the desolate nature of the land. The Montana seasons are harsh and unpredictable, leaving those who rely on farming the land at the will of mother nature. There is no industry that has defined or shaped the landscape; there is only farming and ranching. Those who have made lives here do so humbly, in harmony with these surroundings. The area presents little opportunity for anyone – except those whose land is their heritage.

This land is vast and open – a perfect marriage of endless sky and earth. As the eye stretches, it picks up only the emptiness of thousands of acres of unused land, instilling feelings of both beauty and terror. In its vastness, personal space is undeterminable – creating a unique disorientation of self and challenging our own metaphysical relationship to the objects and geographies which surround us. When analysing Fort Peck through this lens, both historical and contemporary reactions to the land are just. The open prairie and sky disorient the fantasies of being, and this incredulous experience both distorts and destroys our perceptions of size and distance.

The early homesteaders often confused perception with reality due to the extreme isolation they faced,

leading to an affliction known as prairie madness. Ever more so, the expansiveness of the landscape leaves those within it confused and disoriented, with no landmarks of relatable size or distance to build frames of reference upon.  

The images presented within The sky is only as far as we can see attempt to capture this overwhelming vastness. Photographs of landscape and sky are countered by those of my own family, who are both a part of the Assiniboine and the homesteader heritage. It is my goal to communicate a feeling of disorientation by exploring the interplay between large format landscape photographs and smaller, tightly cropped portraits – forcing the viewer to experience the overwhelming vastness of space compared directly to the intimate nature of these personal portraits.

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