‘This is bliss.’ New book focuses on small town Idaho | Idaho

BLISS — When Jon Horvath saw a freeway sign pointing toward Bliss, he followed it.

The Wisconsin-based photographer needed some luck, a little luck, after ending a relationship in late summer 2013, and was experiencing a self-proclaimed “reboot” when he found himself on a road trip through southern Idaho.

Love’s Travel Stop gives Bliss a boost, a small town in rural Idaho.

Horvath was intrigued by the name, and his curiosity led him to the small community west of Twin Falls.

“That (the name) was enough to prompt an exit off the freeway to see what happiness might look like in the middle of the desert,” he recalled.

Like so many motorists, Horvath could have quickly filled up his car and driven down the road, quickly forgetting the small detour.

Instead, he returned to take photos and talk to people.

A dog named Fruit Snacks. “I had a brief encounter with the owner of FS who wanted to show me the dog’s ground teeth,” said photographer Jon Horvath.

His first images of decaying buildings and open spaces were just a start. He dug deeper, and after five visits there in 2014 and 2016, he has produced a book, which came out in June and is described on Amazon as “a transmedia narrative project that explores the disappearing geography and culture of a rural Idaho town called Bliss examined”.

He took photos of small burial sites, parts of a large military plane that crashed near the city in 1995. He aimed his camera at flowers, dogs, and prom kings, and each photo slowly revealed more layers of bliss. At the end of the book he wrote an article loosely based on his experiences.

A Bliss resident tilts his head down as his portrait is taken by Jon Horvath.

The detailed work does not follow a traditional documentary style.

“Instead, Bliss’ black-and-white and color film photographs, tintypes, archival images, ephemera, and scanned objects form a kind of dreamlike time capsule,” CNN reported.

The photograph on the 280-page book’s Paperbook cover shows Buck Hall, who lives in Bliss, reflecting his car. Hall, who died in 2021, told Horvath on his first visit that Bliss once had its glory days.

The cover of This Is Bliss features resident Buck Hall’s reflection on photographer Jon Horvath’s car.

Longtime residents remember when Bliss had nine gas stations and six restaurants and was a popular stopping point between Boise and Burley before the construction of the Interstate decades ago drastically reduced the number of travelers passing through town.

With the help of a publisher and a “brilliant” designer, the book “came to life,” he said.

“I loved my time in Bliss,” said Horvath, who lives in Milwaukee. “It’s a community that has allowed me to rediscover myself at a changing moment in my life. Bliss will always be associated with this moment for me.”

Jon Horvath

Local residents confided to Horvath that Bliss was small and getting smaller. The 2020 census is expected to have a population of 258, down 18% from 318 in 2010.

But while they saw their town not growing, the residents of Horvath showed how big the heart of the town is.

“They took me to their house for portraits; They took me on an adventure and always with great enthusiasm,” he said. “That’s one of the special aspects of ‘This Is Bliss’ for me; Many of those moments led to the creation of works that hopefully honored her generosity in some way.”

Horvath’s last visit to Bliss was in 2016, and his project came to an end when the Love’s Truck Stop announcement was announced, bringing new jobs and new life to the town.

A photo of the desert at Bliss.

Regardless, the project’s small community narrative enabled Bliss to represent numerous other locations in small town America, he said.

“I hope that whoever moves through the book walks away with their own meaningful experience,” Horvath said, “and maybe a new lens through which to look at these smaller communities in the West.”

“I have no plans to return to take up residence,” Horvath said, “but will be a frequent visitor when I’m in the area.”

Horvath’s book can be purchased at yoffypress.com/catalog/bliss.