BETH SCHIFFER ARTISTS + CLIENTS
For the last three summers I have documented the small towns and communities in the hinterland regions of Western Canada. In certain regards, these photographs also contain a biographical element, insofar as they show places I’ve lived as a child and teenager. Moving to New York in 2006 enabled me to view these areas in a different light as I began to consider their social, economic, and geographic relationships to major metropolitan centers.
Western Canada’s small town and communities are often treated as existing at a social and economic disadvantage to the major financial firms and large corporations, which radiate from larger centers. Yet despite the geographical barriers that determine their relationship to metropolitan centers, the people of these regions have had a significant role in forming Canada’s social infrastructure, from the creation of universal health care to the establishment of affordable education. By forging strong community bonds and forming cooperative conglomerations, the people of these hinterland regions were able to resist exploitation by large financial firms in the east by affecting economies of scale. (In this regard, it is worth noting that the province of Saskatchewan elected North America’s first socialist government in the 1940’s.)
During the period of economic stagnation characterizing most all of North America in the mid to late 70’s, the socialist government of Saskatchewan nevertheless continued to balance its budget, even posting a surplus in some years. But these successes could not stand in the way of the ideological shift, which resulted in the election of a conservative government in Saskatchewan in 1982— a shift, which of course coincided with the conservative Reagan revolution in the United States. The consequences of this new direction were far-reaching, and the province was forced to disassemble long-established social institutions to pay a mounting debt acquired by the conservatives— a debt that nearly bankrupted the province.
Today these social programs remain in a state of decay. My photographic project documents this state as it manifests itself in my hometown, where it affects my family, friends, and the landscape that shaped me.