2018 #26

Good God Damn

by Bryan Schutmaat

Drinking beer, shooting rifles and driving around rural Texas in a muddied pickup truck, Bryan takes pictures of a close friend who is just days from leaving town to serve an impending prison sentence.


From the day I first met Kris, I always liked his presence and energy. I had wanted to photograph him for a while, but I never did until he told me that he would soon be headed for prison. I felt the need to take pictures since it would be my last chance for a while. I didn’t think much about his impending incarceration at the outset. I just shot some portraits. After looking at them and thinking about what was in his immediate future, I sensed an emotional depth that merited a project.


Photography projects that reveal too much don’t interest me that much. I like that an element of mystery is inherent in photography. Photos don’t really tell stories – they just describe what a moment looks like. What happens beyond the frame or outside the moment it’s captured is anyone’s guess. I want to engage viewers and get them to think in an imaginative way, which is why I don’t burden them with too much text or information.


I think it might be interesting to photograph Kris as he re-enters society. In the United States, it’s difficult for ex-convicts to succeed. When applying for jobs for instance, they have to declare that they’ve been in prison, putting them at a great disadvantage. Advocacy groups are trying to end these policies. Kris’ sentence is five years, but he'll probably get out sooner.


Coming from Texas, I’ve spent a lot of time in rural areas and small towns, getting to know the land and people. I can’t say with any specificity why I’m drawn to them, but generally I’m driven by social and ecological concerns, and of course by aesthetic potential. My first book, Grays the Mountain Sends, is about how the mining industry has affected communities, but that’s more of a backdrop to convey more introspective and emotional expressions.


I think books are the best way to engage with photography. Exhibitions are more of a spectacle, and nothing beats the quality of a fine art print, but books are more intimate and I think it’s easier to make meaningful connections with the work when alone with a book. Plus, there’s a poetry in how images are revealed when pages turn, which can’t be duplicated on a wall. Books are often about “the reveal” and the way narrative, mood, and atmosphere unfold.

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Photo of Good God Damn by Bryan Schutmaat

Untitled from the series Good God Damn, 2018 by Bryan Schutmaat

Photo of Good God Damn by Bryan Schutmaat

Bryan Schutmaat

Texas, US

Bryan Schutmaat

Bryan Schutmaat

Texas, US

Jagged terrain populated by hardscrabble people - Bryan Schutmaat (b. 1983, USA) documents and explores the American West. Portraits of life-worn individuals - miners, manual labourers and a friend about to embark on a prison sentence - are as rugged as the austere landscape they are set against. With a BA in History from the University of Houston, Schutmaat is critically engaged with the past; often shooting in black and white, and by utilising a large format analogue camera, he references iconic, historical photographs of America's settler population on the ‘last frontier’. An affinity for the book medium has led to Schutmaat’s unfurling, narrative style and intimate ethos.

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