« Return to this article

Know the West

Relics of Montana’s everyday past

Abstract photos offer an unsentimental beauty.


In What They Left Behind, Richard Buswell takes ordinary bits of Montana’s past and renders them abstract and haunting in black-and-white photographs. Rather than simply collect and arrange artifacts, he seeks to expose the unexpected beauty in their patterns and shapes. Divorced from context and cast in sharp light and shadow, antlers and spokes, hip sockets and bulb sockets reveal their common geometries.

Buswell had a long career as a physician, and the photos in this book reflect the sensibilities of both a medical professional and a deeply observant artist. His subjects, from doll parts to bones, insistently evoke mortality. These images capture each object in an unsentimental state of “after”: after decay, after a lifetime of use, after abandonment, after death. But they also invite us to notice the beauty concealed in everyday details, and in the forgotten fragments of our own lives.

What They Left Behind
By Richard S. Buswell
88 pages, hardcover: $29.95.
University of New Mexico Press, 2017.