For ‘Conspiracy of Cartographers’ Issue 3, Eric Swanger spent 3 weeks traveling what looks to be the western part of the midwest with a 4×5 field camera and a bunch of film, and he came back with a tale of loneliness and the ghosts that keep watch over the Badlands region.

It seems somehow appropriate to share this on Memorial Day, though the white man’s aggression against (and genocide of) the native populations roughly 150 years ago isn’t quite what the day is traditionally about.

This sort of trip is one I’d like to undertake one day, just me, a car, a full tank of gas, a 4×5, a gang of film, and a tent… Given my marriage and all, I have some doubts, and will probably have to suffice with some weekend jaunts, but the Big Bend is calling me, West Texas is calling me, the lonely, empty, public lands are calling me.

The black & white photographs are printed on black paper, and they’re a little bit flat and hard for me to look at. I have to really narrow my eyes and tilt the zine around until the glare disappears and I can make out what’s going on: mostly landscapes, a few interiors, all empty, with only long-faded signs of life. Each photograph has a short bit of text next to it, of one of two types: Swanger talks about his trip and about photography, and there are quotes from survivors of various battles between Custer’s army. Some of the quotes are gruesome, disturbing. I know what we (white men, but also people) are capable of, but it’s still gut-wrenching to read, and with the pictures as guides, you sorta know that the land remembers better than we do.

If you want to feel a bit of jealousy, you can pick up a copy of Conspiracy of Cartographers #3 for cheap from Swanger’s Etsy shop.

And look forward to glimpses of other Conspiracy of Cartographers zines coming soon!

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