Photographer Jason Lazarus attends the opening of his exhibit, "Detrite: Rural and Urban Exploration into Alaska's Hidden Past" at Chartreuse on First Avenue in downtown Fairbanks, AK.

The past 10 days, I’ve had wheels, thanks to my colleague, Joy Morrison, who’s the director of faculty development at University of Alaska Fairbanks. While she’s away on business, her car allows me to travel around Fairbanks, to expand my zone of familiarity.

Last Friday, I went to explore First Friday Downtown, a chance to discover local artists, musicians and merchants. I was supporting my colleague, Jason Lazarus, who has an exhibit of his photographs at Chartreuse, at 729 First Avenue.

“I got way out in the boonies for these shots,” Lazarus said of his images. “Detrite: Rural and Urban Exploration into Alaska’s Hidden Past” features 20 prints, primarily 13″ X 19″ archival ink jet color prints and a half-dozen 11″ X 14″ silver gelatin black-and-white prints. Lazarus is a photographic archeologist and anthropologist, who returns to abandoned gold mine sites to mine them now for images and clues to Alaska’s boom-and-bust past.

“Dozens of Gold mines and tiny settlements used to dot the maps just north of Fairbanks,” Lazarus wrote in his artist statement. “Each of them has a rich history that has virtually been forgotten.”

He’s creating and collecting a “visual record of the past we’ve virtually forgotten.”

Lazarus returns to the mines over and over.  Several photographs features items and scenes Lazarus found at Cleary mine, 25 north of Fairbanks, near Skiland.

“Cleary mine supported a town of over 3,000 people,” Lazarus said.

Local musicians Karlan Bachmann, left, and Mason Little of "The Goods" play during the opening of photographer Jason Lazarus' exhibit at Chartreuse on First Avenue in downtown Fairbanks, AK.

One photograph entitled “Toast X 2” shows a waitress guest slip from the Model Cafe with the date 2-17-42.  Another entitled “Keystone Grease” shows the remnants of a stamp mill, which closed in the 1940’s because of WWII, Lazarus said.

“Mines are one of the few remnants of a rich history, 50 to 60 years. Drift mines. Hard rock mines. All the way down to dredging,” Lazarus said. “People who live on Gold Hill don’t know there’s a a stamp mill within two miles of where they live.”

Lazarus sees his photographs as a way to preserve a history that is rapidly disappearing.

“The state government in the Lower 48 constantly strives to save these locations,” Lazarus said. “Anything in the Interior (Alaska) is rotting away. A hundred years of white man history and we’re letting it die.”

A lot of Fairbanks and interior history lives with the pioneers.

“It’s a boom and bust kind of town,” Lazarus said. “Every 20 years, disaster happens and people move away. Every year we lose more pioneers.”

And as pioneers leave….

“You lose the story.”

With his lovely, lyrical images of forgotten times and the items that inhabited them, Lazarus is helping to keep the story alive.

Note: The exhibit will be on display until the end of November. Contact Chartreuse at 452-5556 for more details.