To make the pictures in Meadowlark, Ian Bates spent years driving the vast, sparsely-populated spaces of the American West, often sleeping in his car. This is a project borne of both passion and patience, and though Bates was initially inspired by the Western Meadowlark—state bird of North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Kansas, and Nebraska—the bird ultimately proved elusive, and appears here only once, as a crude facsimile painted on a weathered scrap of plywood.
It turns out there’s plenty of space out there for even birds to disappear. Bates’ photographs are full of things disappearing in plain sight; like all photos, they’re an imposition, but given the glorious anonymity of sprawling tracts of western and plains states geography, they’re also about respectful distance, and the space(s) between people, places, and things. These are places famous for keeping their secrets, and for maintaining a (long) arm’s reach from the outside world. A person drifting in such landscapes can never be entirely sure where they are, other than simultaneously on the outskirts of everything and in the thick of a perpetual and sublime (and very quiet) mystery. Every photographer is essentially exploring outer space, but in Meadowlark Bates is in deep space, and these are photos that are as reticent as their subjects. This world doesn’t much nurture silence, but it’s still out there, a stealth force, a glacier, and in the places it lives it can hear things coming from a long way away.