25 January 2021

The American City Blessed By God

25 January 2021 - Written by PhMuseum

In her series This Holy Hill, Jenna Garrett juxtaposes elements of religion and mundane everyday scenarios to propose a visual account of one of the most suburban tourist destinations in the United States.

“When God looked upon th’ work of his hands an’ called hit good, he war sure lookin’ at this here Ozark country.” — Harold Bell Wright, 'The Shepherd of the Hills'

'This Holy Hill' explores spirituality and myth in America through a rural vacation town. Branson, Missouri is a population of 11,400 nestled in the Ozark Mountains. For more than a century it’s served as a much-loved tourist destination, drawing an estimated 7 million a year at its height. The region champions a particular subset of American values, but above all, a belief its existence is blessed by God.

I was born an hour north of Branson. As a child, I visited several times a year. My work examines the foundation on which I was raised. Through a combination of documentary and staged images, I create a nuanced portrait of a worldview often over-simplified.

Branson became famous due in part to the 1907 novel 'The Shepherd of the Hills' by Harold Bell Wright. The Dickensian story follows a world-weary minister who finds redemption in the homely beauty of the Ozarks. The novel was a success and Edwardians flooded the area to wonder at the hallowed hinterland. Today, emblems of that heritage are abundant, from a 218-foot cross to a working chapel in a pioneer amusement park. Seen as a whole, these elements reinforce the notion of Branson as Eden.

My ongoing project juxtaposes Vegas-style glitz and monuments with wilderness and the mundane. These disparate elements coalesce a feeling more potent than its parts. America has a long history of decreeing ordinary places holy, blending nature and the divine as proof of its intended destiny. It’s a story grandly told, partially true, and deeply felt.

Words and Pictures by Jenna Garrett.


Jenna Garrett is an artist and photo editor living in San Francisco, California. Her current practice focuses on the Ozarks in southwest Missouri where she was born. Garrett is a 2020 Bristol Photo Festival CATALYST mentee. Her work was selected for American Photography 36 and has shown at the Aperture Gallery, Photoville, and Slideluck. She received an MA in Fine Art Photography from the London College of Communication. She can also ride a unicycle, but only in a straight line. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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