back to the ranch

photograph by Matt O'Brien

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Matt O'Brien

Back to the Ranch is my study and celebration of ranching in the East Bay. Ranching in the area traces its origins back to the eighteenth century with the founding of Mission San Jose by the Spanish in present day Fremont. When I began the project in 1991, it was not in response to the loss of ranch lands. I only came to understand how rapidly the region is losing its agricultural lands and how harmful and destructive that process is while at work on the project.

My initial motivation was simply to explore this way of life which is so remarkably different from that of the other six and a half million people living in the Bay Area. It's a way of life that is passed down from one generation to the next, where people have intimate relationships with the land and with animals, and where a day's work in the summer is different from a day's work in the winter.

That's very different, and it seems to me a much more fundamentally human way of living, than what most Americans do for work nowadays in their offices and cubicles doing more or less the same thing whether its spring or fall, wet or dry. Activities revolving around the seasons and the rhythms of nature around which human beings have lived their lives for millennia, like the harvest, planting, and calving, for most of us now, are merely words and concepts that don't seem to have anything to do with our lives.

Since I began the project, five of the ranches I photographed have been carved up, graded, and are in various stages of conversion into housing tracts and shopping centers. One of the ranches was flooded to make way for a new reservoir which will supply water for further residential development. Naturally, one of the themes of the project became the loss of these lands and of this way of life.

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