For Andy Scholz, a German artist who works in photography and film, coming to North Dakota had been a long-unfulfilled desire. “I love the movie ‘Fargo,’ so I wanted to come here to see the city and to be here for a while,” Scholz said.
When Scholz heard about the oil boom bubbling up in the Bakken, he knew he finally needed to make the trip. Funded by the German Consulate, Scholz travelled thousands of miles from Germany to the central U.S. to photograph the oil industry in North Dakota.
But when he got there, it wasn’t what he had anticipated. “Maybe I read too much about it, because I expected different things,” he said. “For the first five days, I was very lost. I expected more crowding.”
What he found instead was that, despite massive population growths in the state, much of North Dakota was desolate and unoccupied. “I’m from Europe. In an area like North and South Dakota, we have 80 million people. You have 1.2 million people. I couldn’t really realize what that means. But when I was here, there was only landscape.”
After a brief period of dismay, Scholz found a way to approach the project, even occasionally incorporating landscape images, something he says he doesn’t usually do.
Hosted by families across the state from Libertarians of North Dakota, Scholz explored the expanses of North Dakota. Staying in Watford City, Minot, Williston, and Dickinson, the photographer was able to capture not only pieces of the oil boom, but also of people’s place in it. “I drove every day, eight hours. That’s the way it is. It is about driving, the oil. You need oil to drive, and you need oil to put all the oil away.”
An exhibit of the photographs he took during his time in the Bakken, entitled Oil in the Fields, opened at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead, Minnesota on October 17th. The museum graciously opened gallery spaces on both floors to accommodate Scholz’s work.
“It’s like a novel or short story,” Scholz describes. “Read it like a story. Make your own opinion about it. I don’t want to say something good or bad,” he says. “It’s more of my subjective view on it as an artist.”
Perhaps most striking is the lack of actual people in his exhibit. Unlike other photographers who have told their stories through the people of Western North Dakota, Scholz focuses on the seemingly small things, from a flare in a field of daisies to clouds of dust stirred up by semi-trucks.
The overall impression of the exhibit shares with viewers the same feeling that Scholz experienced as he traveled through the state: Even with something as big as the Bakken boom, it’s still possible to experience desolation.
To see more work by Andy Scholz, click here.