The Last Survivor is the First Suspect is at once a celebration and a requiem. The project, captured between 2005 and 2009 by photographer Nick Haymes, is a record of a drifting community of young friends based mainly between two distinct geographic points: Southern California and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The book's narrative merges a sense of joy in documenting burgeoning friendships and bonds, and a looming sense of dread that would ultimately culminate in a series of tragedies.
Weaving throughout Haymes intimate photographs are a series of digital screenshots which Haymes has identified as key to this moment in time, which offer the viewer a secondary narrative of engagement. Social media was still relatively young and Haymes became acutely aware of a new nodal sense of communication between these distinct groups of friends. Platforms such as MySpace, YouTube and online message boards engendered a sense of community by enabling connection, while also setting new and impossible standards and expectations. Diligently collected, these various forms of communication between the characters frame a foreboding.
In Haymes’ own introduction to the book he accounts how his camera allowed him to compensate for a sense of crippling shyness developed during his teenage years. ’I picked up a camera and hid, discovering I could once again be near people, intimate with them, without having to engage,’ he writes. To create this exhibition and publication, the artist has returned to a body of pictures, piecing together what happened to these people for himself. Here, Haymes invites us to form a contemporary engagement with this specific historic moment, where things are both different and the same in equal measure. L.P. Hartley famously opened his coming of age opus The Go-Between ’The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ The Last Survivor is the First Suspect shows this sentiment with remarkable clarity.