Behind The Redwood Curtain
The Urban Dictionary states:
- Redwood Curtain (adj) The Redwood Curtain (RC) is the extreme northwestern corner of California, i.e. the coastal counties of Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino. The RC is the northern Californian version of the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe erected during the Cold War and is mostly used in a derogatory sense, whereby the RC symbolizes the area’s lack of cultural or metropolitan qualities as well as poor transportation access, sparse development, rugged geography, and a strong provincialism among the native locals. -
For years, the rugged Redwoods isolated Humboldt County from the rest of California. Driving along Highway 101 was tough as it transformed into a rough two-lane dirt road that twisted in and out of river canyons and slalomed around redwood trees. It could take days to arrive in Eureka. Then, in the early 1900's the Northwestern Pacific Railroad completed its link to Humboldt County and the old dirt roads were paved. Gradually the economic importance of the Redwoods as a tourist attraction rivaled their value as lumber.
Today, Caltrans has straightened the worst of the curves and transformed the road, for the most part, into a modern, four-lane highway. Making the once difficult to breach Curtain accessible to everybody. But still, the notion of the Redwood Curtain persists and Humboldt County remains a place apart; separated by landscape and culture, if not distance, from the rest of California. The Humboldtians have developed a strong and independent attitude but the once strong and healthy forest industry is no more. Forest preservation took the upper hand and has pushed the area in an economic downfall.
Three weeks I spent in the economically battered town of Eureka and the peculiar atmosphere struck me the minute I arrived. Deteriorated colonial houses, empty neighborhoods and gloomy mornings dripping with thick fog. It felt uncomfortable walking around in the desolate streets looking for people or interesting scenes and the first few days, I tried to escape the eerie atmosphere by going to McDonald's or Walmart; places with lots of people.
As the days went by I started to feel more comfortable and I felt that photographing in the misty mornings would reflect the atmosphere more than anything else. So, every day I traveled to another town trying capture the surroundings and people behind the Curtain. Arcata, Rio Dell, Scotia, Samoa. Every town I visited had that same strange feeling of emptiness and I stood out, locals picked up on it right away.
For days, I strolled around looking for people, asking them to take their picture. Some were passing through, some were running away but most of them were just staying put; trapped behind the Redwood Curtain; gazing into a murky, gray future.