This project was born on a summer day in 1988 while visiting my parents in Phoenix, Arizona. Driving down a street, I was struck by a thought: in less than two years the American West will mark the centennial of the closing of its famous frontier. Photographing the modern frontier as a way of celebrating this landmark event would be an interesting project.

I lived in Los Angeles at the time, having recently bailed out of graduate school in film at UCLA. Needing a paycheck, I worked in the basement of the university's main library processing new books. Needing a purpose, I often wandered among the stacks of the library's extensive western history collection, where I fished, frankly, for ideas. One day I found one. I came across a small book titled The Turner Thesis: Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History. Curious, I checked it out and began reading in it during breaks at work. I quickly learned two important facts: first, the U.S. Census Office officially declared the western frontier closed in 1890; and secondly, that Prof. Frederick Jackson Turner declared in an 1893 essay that this very same frontier was a defining influence on American character.

Here's what the Superintendent of the Census wrote in 1890: "Up to and including 1880, the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports."

This declaration gave Prof. Turner an idea. Here is his famous thesis in his own words: "This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American  history has  been in a large  degree the history  of the  colonization of the  Great  West.