All up and down central and southern Utah, spaced at regular intervals, are little farming settlements—each with its own irrigation system fed by a creek that delivers water from springs and catchment basins in the high country. A hundred years ago each was a self-contained community complete with meeting hall, church, post office, school, general store, movie house, blacksmith and barbershop. Then came the automobile and paved roads, which provided a means of escape for teenagers bored out of their minds and driven—like baby muskrats—to expand the gene pool by dating someone other than their first and second cousins.
I never pass an opportunity to explore rundown farm towns because—let’s face it—poverty is photogenic. Sun bleached corrals, fading paint, tumbledown barns, crumbling log cabins—what’s not to like? One fine spring day 42 years ago I was focusing my Canon rangefinder on what looked to be the oldest dwelling in Scipio when I was approached by an elderly man named Con Robins, who informed me his house was even older than the one I was taking a picture of. Only thing, thanks to asphalt siding and an aluminum screen door, it didn’t look as old. So I asked Mr. Robins if he would mind standing next to the older-looking house that wasn’t his, and he was kind enough to accommodate me.
Mr. Robins had been born in Scipio way back in 1886, to a pioneering family after which several local landmarks, including a lake, are named. I really appreciated the fact that, even though he had remodeled his home, Mr. Robins had not yet thought to update his wardrobe.
The following year I was tooling down U.S. 89 on my Honda 305 when I spotted a figure who appeared to have emerged from another time—let’s say the Nineteen Thirties. I braked to a stop and whipped out my newly-purchased Bronica S2-A, also known as “the poor man’s Hasselblad.”
“No time to explain,” I said. “I just NEED to take your picture!”
The young man graciously complied. I made just one exposure, from waist level because I wanted to make him look heroic and also because all I had was a waist-level finder. Only years later did I learn his name, which is Darr Kreutzer. Turns out Darr was not the archetypical Utah farm boy, nor was he even a Utahn. Rather, he was a Californian who was spending the summer on his grandfather’s farm. No matter; he certainly looked the part, and in fact Darr did eventually become a farmer and would no doubt be farming today had he not tragically died in a car wreck at the age of 46.
I have learned that Darr is buried in the Vermillion Cemetery, less than a mile away from the spot where I took his picture in 1971. Most tombstones there bear an inscription of a Mormon temple, but not Darr’s, on which are depicted four stalks of wheat. So my first impression was spot on; Darr Kreutzer was at heart a farm boy.
Just south of Richfield I turned onto a secondary road and then a tertiary road that winds through the mostly imaginary hamlet of Annabella. That road eventually leads to the Monroe Cemetery where, with a little help from the caretaker, I was able to locate the marker I was looking for.
“I know ‘em all,” declared the caretaker. “But, you know, they move around a lot.”
When I first met Orville Kirby, he was living in a very old and very sturdy pioneer rock house. As nearly as I could tell, the building had no indoor plumbing—just a rickety wooden outhouse with a television antenna sprouting from the roof. Most of the main house was taken up with potting equipment and a kiln, where Orville fired various ceramic figurines but mostly doves. Fittingly, a dove adorns Mr. Kirby’s tombstone.
There is not another Kirby buried in the cemetery. Evidently Orville had no family in the area, and just why he relocated his studio from California to Monroe, Utah, in 1955 remains a mystery. When we met, I was travelling light, on a BMW R80/7. All I had by way of a camera that day was my trusty Leica M3 and a 35mm Summicron lens. I shot just one picture of Orville, and I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. So, evidently, was Orville. Not long after I had mailed him a complimentary 8×10, a letter came in the mail postmarked Monroe. Inside was a check in the amount of two dollars and a brief note:
“Dear Mr. Menzies,
Thank you so much for the photograph. It’s the REAL me!”
It’s possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my work.