Daryl Peveto, “American Nomads”

December 09, 2009

In conjunction with our annual photo issue, we are publishing photo essays of long term, in-progress, personal work by contributing FADER photographers about the people and changing landscape of America. More photos from FADER contributor Daryl Peveto’s “American Nomads,” along with his personal statement about the project are after the jump.

A central goal of the American Dream is to one day own your own home. Yet our beginnings were forged out of another, antithetical idea: that of movement and searching for self-determination. Today this idea still exists, but far away from our neatly manicured suburban homes and out of view of the mainstream. In the United States, there exist large communities which have turned their backs on the idea of settling down, opting for a nomadic life. One such community open to this lifestyle is Slab City, located on the Salton Sea in Southern California. There are no amenities or services. No potable water, no electricity, no stores, nothing. What this community does offer is a sort of freedom, which for many of them begins with its root: free. No rent, no taxes, no fees. This is a community of barter and necessity, completely anarchic. Not chaos, as it has been associated with, but pure anarchy, or as pure as is possible. It is not a true utopia, as Thomas More envisioned, but it is not dystopia either.

At first glance, this community is both raw and harsh, but there is also much beauty and love. There are thieves and rampant drug use, but also picnics and birthday parties and an always-open door. And much like the rest of the world, they eat and bathe and sleep and marry and die. But they do it on their own terms.

I stumbled on this bizarre place called the Salton Sea while on assignment, shooting an environmental story. I went back to the place because it had a strange sort of magnetic pull that I did not understand. After spending several months living with these nomadic communities in the desert, I began to see the formation of this idea in the lives of the individuals. The story has been working its way out, but after a year on this piece, I still don't fully understand its magnetic draw. I suppose it is that these individuals are carving out an existence based on absolute freedom—or as close to it as they can manage. It is not pretty, it is often difficult, but it is theirs. And that is a pretty amazing thing.

I have made many friends. I have been touched by their lives, and saddened by several of their deaths, but all in all I am moved by their determination and resilience especially as I try to muster my own to continue this story so that I can tell it honestly and with dignity. I still have a long way to go. I hope you will stay tuned.

Posted: December 09, 2009
Daryl Peveto, “American Nomads”