The Fussy Eye: Under the Lake

Images of an enduring Idaho town.

The town of American Falls, Idaho, where photographer Steve Davis grew up, is a long drive east of Boise, a long way from Olympia (where now he teaches at Evergreen), and a long distance from coastal prosperity. With a population just over 4,000, situated by a dam on the Snake River, it's a red-state ag town that Davis regards affectionately, without condescension. The mobile homes, roadside food vendors, and boarded-up storefronts in As American Falls aren't necessarily harbingers of rural decline. (Though a grizzly mural warns some nearby cheerleaders, "He only bites . . . meth consumes!") Unlike many old frontier outposts in the American West, the town isn't shrinking. The bars and church bazaars still have people in them; this is a place of stoic survival and endurance. In fact, the whole town was relocated in 1925 when the dam was built, and its old foundations lie under the lake, like a drowned twin. And there's mystery beneath the pressing blue sky, a haunted quality. A giant neon cross illuminates a frozen, empty cul-de-sac. On a football field, soft-focus prom couples stand like the toy figures on a wedding cake. Only the crisp autumn moon overhead is sharp. The kids will graduate and maybe leave—another precious crop, like soybeans and potatoes, eked out of the soil and Snake. 

 
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