I was born and bred in the Midwest, a product of college towns and peripheral rural communities. I regularly traveled between divorced parents, which led to a sense of always “showing up” into an established space/set of relationships. So I was always an outsider — left to fend for myself as an only child and latchkey kid. This perceived/imagined/real status as outsider made me into a bit of an observer and ultimately led me to photography. As a photographer, I could poke around places without creeping people out.
I'm not sure how anyone ends up anywhere. No matter how much I've tried to plan or control my path, I haven't been aware of the huge decisions as I've been making them — or, rather, I haven’t been able to see how those decisions would ultimately turn out. This used to bring me fear, but I've found comfort in it as I get older.
What motivates me to do “this” are a couple of traits/truths about myself. First, I've got a number of skills that make me suited to this type of work (don’t ask me what they are, I'm not that self-aware.) Second, I think I may not have been suited to do anything else when we decided to do something — when we started, I still felt too young to be taken seriously and may have seen this project as a place to experiment while I grew up. But while I remember freaking out about what my future was going to hold and how I should be courting it, I found myself growing increasingly dedicated to working and being here. I liked doing something that was meant to help. I liked exploring different roles and meeting new people. I liked that what we wanted to try or do was never much of a hard sell. I liked that people liked what we did.
I think a lot about accountability in our town. You're always visible here, and your reputation can be quite fragile. So I feel proud that I've been welcomed into this community, and feel fortunate to have found myself with the very relationships I couldn't have as a kid.
I care deeply about the well-being of the people in this community and the opportunities to engage with, serve with, and know them.
I'm not sure how anyone ends up anywhere. No matter how much I've tried to plan or control my path, I haven't been aware of the huge decisions as I've been making them.
Jeff Barnett-Winsby, Wassaic, August 2017
Photos by Verónica González Mayoral