A Study of Negative Space
STORY BY Sasha von Oldershausen
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Grant Legan and Jesse Lenz
"Without the fear of falling, there wouldn’t be the rush of standing on the edge. "
On a road map, the Beartooth Highway goes easily unnoticed. Worming its way from Montana to Wyoming, then into Montana again—and concluding at the threshold of Yellowstone National Park—the line designating the path looks like a cartographic afterthought: an inch-and-a-half-long squiggle that fails to convey the majesty of the route. The entry point to the highway is in the sleepy town of Red Lodge. A gas-station attendant in town might tell you that there isn’t any camping for miles along the Beartooth Highway.
If you make the expedition, you’re in it for the long haul, and Yellowstone is your final destination.
Heading west, you get constant affirmation from the sun, which follows you, burning its course across the sky and dipping into your windshield view at golden hour. This is when you hit the highway. You enter the valley of the Beartooth Mountains, and the creeping sun casts shadows against imposing peaks and gilds their snowy caps. The summits stand like silent witnesses.
You might be in a car or, if you’re zealous, on a bicycle. You crawl up the pass, zigzagging up switchbacks and spotting cars driving in the opposite direction at the very last minute, along a road that’s entirely too narrow for two. In the passenger seat of the car, you peer out the window. Between you and the 4,000-foot descent is just space, and not enough of it. You grip your knees and grin wildly as the gravel spitting out from under the wheels spills down the side of the cliff.
During the trek, you are euphoric, and time feels indeterminate. Your cheeks ache from smiling, your heart races against the beat of the music flooding your ears, and the bliss you feel is matched only by a fear of falling into the abyss. In that moment, it seems that real joy can only be felt at the very edge.
In art, the concept of negative space suggests that no physical object is evident without the space around it. Without the gaps between our fingers, the very notion of fingers would not exist. Without nothing, there cannot be something. At times, life seems best rendered in terms of negative space. Without the fear of falling, there wouldn’t be the rush of standing on the edge.
The Beartooth Highway brings this philosophical experience to physical fruition. Just beyond the road is nothing. And teetering along the edge of the Earth, you cannot imagine a greater thrill. At the top of the mountain, you pull over, stumble onto solid ground, and dance with blankets wrapped around your shoulders. You gasp from lack of oxygen at the space below.