Jane Hilton, photographer and filmmaker lives in London. She started out as a classical musician, graduating in 1984 with a BA (Hons) in Music and Visual Art from Lancaster University. Her love of photography brought her to London, working as an assistant for numerous fashion and advertising photographers, before going it alone in 1988. Early work included both fashion and editorial alongside her documentary projects, which is the mainstay and passion of her work today. Today we share Jane’s series titled Dead Eagle Trail.
DEAD EAGLE TRAIL
Jane Hilton’s first visit to North America was to Arizona in 1988. The enormous wide-open spaces, desert highways, and vast skies couldn’t be more different from the world she had experienced growing up in suburban England. This, combined with the warm memories of spending Sunday afternoons watching “westerns” with her dad has contributed to her affection for the ‘wild west’.
There is definitely a romanticism that is associated with the gun-slinging cowboy, defending his land and a moral code. These displays of heroism have been reinforced in novels such as Owen Wisters’ “The Virginian”,1902, and films such as John Ford’s “Stagecoach”,1939, and with the iconic John Wayne. American culture has been defined by the West, and the ‘American Dream’ has been created out of it. The pioneering days of the gold rush, the evolution of towns such as Las Vegas, illustrate the mantra of the people; that anything is possible in America.
“Dead Eagle Trail” is a culmination of numerous road trips Hilton has taken across the states whilst documenting American culture. Driving a 1966 Mustang along desert highways across vast wide-open spaces is synonymous with the Hollywood movies that she grew up with. It was on one of these road trips in 2006 that Jane met a young cowboy in Cortez, Colorado. He had taken two years to travel from Alaska to the Mexican border entirely on horseback aged 17 years old. He epitomized the American Dream, and the older cowboys loved him for that.
This book is a celebration of the West, from the buckaroos of Nevada to the cowpunchers of Arizona. Cowboys are photographed in their own homes, surrounded by western artifacts. The need to hold onto their heritage is clearly visible. As the price of petrol and animal feed rises, the ranches struggle to survive and the cowboy of the twenty-first century could become extinct.
It was on her first trip to Arizona in 1988, that she discovered an obsession for America and American culture. The contradictions in American society and the American dream is a recurring theme. Her work in Las Vegas is the epitome of this, where the line between fantasy and reality is constantly blurred. The transient nature of Vegas mixed with the incessant gambling philosophy provides a unique breeding ground for characters who live out these contradictions. Her series “Forever Starts Now” on the McDonald’s style wedding culture illustrates this.
From proclamations of everlasting happiness in Vegas, Jane hit the empty desert roads of Nevada ending up 350 miles away near Reno, where a roadside brothel called ‘Madam Kitty’s Cathouse’ caught her eye. This chance encounter became a two year project and resulted in a ten-part documentary series for the BBC, “The Brothel / Love For Sale”, as well as a series of exhibitions on desert landscapes, pimps and prostitutes.
Inspired by a commission in 2006 to photograph a 17 year old cowboy, Jeremiah Karsten, who travelled 4,000 miles on horseback from his native Alaska to Mexico, Jane set off on her own four year pilgrimage, criss crossing the cowboy states of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming to capture America’s 21st century cowboys which culminated in her 2010 book – “Dead Eagle Trail”.
Additionally, for her last book Jane returned to the brothels of Nevada. “Precious” is a collection of intimate nude portraits of working girls from the only state in America where prostitution is legal. The women are all from different cultural backgrounds and the variety of ages and body shapes represented challenge the traditional idea of beauty. Jane was privileged to stay in many of the brothels during this project and the trust and friendship this engendered is clear in the portraits. Jane is currently finishing a documentary on ‘The Last Lion Tamer’ in the UK and working on a new work about American Culture for a solo show in May to coincide with Photo London at Somerset House.
To view more of Jane’s work please visit her website.