Jim Mangan, The Crick

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by Twin Palms Publishers (here). Synthetic leather wrapped hardcover with embossed detail, 10 x 13 inches, 124 pages, with 55 tri-tone plates and 13 four color plates. Includes an essay by Judith Freeman and prose by Roman Bateman. Design by Kevin Messina. In an edition of 3000 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The American photographer and filmmaker Jim Mangan is known for his startling landscapes of the American West. He has spent over two decades in the mountains of Colorado and Utah, finding inspiration in the erratic painterly terrain, with a goal to “put the landscape in motion” and hoping “to forge a sense of connectivity with the earth and of disparate communities.” His earlier photobook Blast (from 2014) documented a long time friend and professional rally driver Ken Block riding across the dusty terrain atop a Utah mountain landscape.

Mangan’s new photobook offers another fascinating exploration of land and people. The series began when he was photographing residential homes of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church) along the Arizona-Utah border, in the town of Short Creek. Warren Jeffs, the church leader, was considered a prophet, that is until he was jailed in 2011 for sexually abusing minors. While working on the project, Mangan met a group of teenage boys, children at the time of the fallout, who remained with their families in Short Creek, while others decided to leave the town altogether. Mangan’s photobook titled The Crick, as the locals call the town, shares their story.

The Crick is a relatively large book, and its cover is wrapped in a synthetic leather featuring an embossed detail – a portrait of a young man in an oval frame – surrounded by a thin golden border. The title and the artist’s name appear on the spine in gold, and the edges of the pages are also gold. Overall, the book’s cover doesn’t reveal much, but gently hints at a religious connection. Inside, the photographs vary in their size and placement on the pages, creating a dynamic and unexpected visual narrative. There are no page numbers, captions, or any other design elements, allowing the images to simply flow. Placed at the very end of the book, an essay by Judith Freeman, who together with Mangan visited the Crick, beautifully describes the world of the boys and offers some context for the series.

The opening sequence sets the atmosphere, with black and white photographs of dark landscapes and houses that look abandoned. Before the fall of Jeffs, the population of the Crick was roughly 9,000 people, and all of them belonged to the church. The church owned all the houses, controlled the police, outlawed activities such as swimming, listening to music, and watching television, and took control over the practice of “spiritual marriage,” the centerpiece of FLDS polygamy. To reduce competition for the younger girls, many teenage boys were cast out – thrown out of the cult with no money or support and becoming known as “the lost boys”. The young men Mangan photographed escaped that fate. They remained in the Crick often living with their mothers, and Mangan met them through a former FLDS member, Jobee Cooke.

One of the first spreads pairs a black and white photograph of a rocky landscape with a gentle portrait of a young man looking down, in a way making a formal connection between the land and the people who inhabit it. A couple of pages later, a color portrait shows another young man with blue sky in the background. He wears a leather vest over a red t-shirt and the shadow from his hat falls on his face. It is followed by a full spread image of a man on a horse in a vast landscape.

To keep busy, the boys rescue mustangs and train them. They dress as old-time explorers, with knives and pistols strapped to their belts, and while they haven’t received any traditional education, they have developed an extraordinary mastery of horsemanship and survival. The boys have “gained a knowledge of and closeness to nature that has been lost in the conventions of modern life.” They taught Mangan how to ride and he joined them on many trails through the desert and in the mountains. Over time, Mangan won the trust of the boys who were taught to distrust outsiders, and his stunning black and white portraits capture their spirit and craft with care and grace.

In a vertical color photograph, a horse appears out of a sand cloud matching the brown color of its coat. This is followed by a full spread photograph capturing a young man performing a riding trick as he descends down a steep rocky hill almost flying behind his horse, and two smaller pictures offer slightly different angles of his daredevil performance. The images capture the beauty and power of the moment, and the unique skills of these young men.

As the narrative unfolds, Mangan rides with the group during the turn of seasons, spending nights at an old abandoned log cabin. In one image, the Book of Mormon appears next to a copy of High Country News and a pack of Jack Daniels playing cards; this is paired with a shot of men playing cards around a table as their hats obscure their faces. Through excellent editing and thoughtful pairing, Mangan creates a mood that feels relaxed and welcoming, capturing the “playfulness of youth against the capricious landscape.”

There are also quieter moments, as a group slowly rides or stops for a break. A full spread photograph shows men off their horses, in a beautiful sun filled valley. Mangan portrays two young men standing shirtless in the forest. They were born in the same room, and only minutes apart, they have different mothers and the same father. They have grown up together and are pretty much inseparable. 

In a handwritten text, Roman Bateman describes the life of the community, and signs it off as “born between two worlds, we are The Lost Lost Boys.” Printed on a shorter piece of paper, it is placed across a stunning shot of a landscape where mountains appear at the intersection of shadows and light. With this series, Mangan once again shows his extraordinary skills of capturing vast landscapes with their beauty and magic.

Closer to the end, one of the last photographs takes up the entire spread, depicting a man standing on his horse, surrounded by the boundless landscape. The book ends with a color portrait of a young man, perhaps the same boy we encountered at the very beginning. This time he stands outside shirtless, his broken arm in cast as he looks slightly down. We can see his shadow along with the shadow of the photographer.

The Crick is a well conceived and impeccably designed photobook that contextualizes and amplifies this important series. Mangan delivers an arresting visual flow of powerful photographs, using photography to observe and preserve personal history. The book is a striking testament to a group of people whose lives might otherwise have been misunderstood or gone unnoticed. “I hope that these photographs offer a bridge between our world and theirs,” says Mangan, and it is that engaged message that helps to make The Crick the solidly good and exciting photobook that it is.

Collector’s POV: Jim Mangan does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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