©Robert Frank, “Butte, Montana, 1955,” from “The Americans,” MOMA collection
I DREAM OF JOURNEYS
Even though photography tends to be a solitary journey, you often end up taking others along for the ride.
Driving through the Western landscape while working on My Dakota, I couldn’t help but think of Robert Frank’s View from Hotel Window, Butte, Montana, from The Americans. I’ve always marveled at how Frank managed to capture not only the feel of this mining center’s drab downtown, but also something more difficult to pin down (melancholy? irony? reverie? a mix of all three?). Whatever it is, it hints at Frank’s complex interiority as he gazed through the gauzy curtains of his hotel room at this mining town’s distant smokestack—and the bleak reality of what the American West had become by the mid-1950s. It’s a view that shouldn’t “merit a second glance,” writes British cultural critic and novelist Geoff Dyer, yet it “demands that we return to it again and again.” For me, that’s usually a sign that I’m looking at a truly poetic image.
It wasn’t just Frank’s lyrical photograph that was coming along on this road trip of my grief for my brother, Dave. I was also bringing along some of my favorite car-trip poems, many that focus on the technological world of the automobile and the natural world outside its windows: “Two forces—one forward moving, unthinking, one stilled and reflective—connect and disconnect us,” notes poet Marianne Boruch. She adds, “The uneasy match seems profoundly American.”
Driving through South Dakota’s remote expanses, I’d sometimes not encounter another car for miles, calling to mind those haunting first lines of Theodore Roethke’s road-trip poem, “The Far Field”: I dream of journeys repeatedly . . . Of driving alone, without luggage, out a long peninsula . . . A fine dry snow ticking the windshield . . .
It was nearly dusk that wintry day in 2006 when I finally stopped my car in front of this abandoned farmhouse. I’d been driving restlessly for some four hours, through a stretch of the prairie I’d never crossed before. Flat land and flat light as far as the eye could see. Somewhere I’d taken a wrong turn. The car radio warned snow was coming. My cell phone was dead, and I was lost.
The farm reminded me of my grandparents’ place, where I’d spent many a childhood summer with my brother, Dave, his twin brother, Mike, and my sisters Mary and Debbie. I remember the never-ending whirring of june bugs on Grandma Raisovich’s back screen door, and how she’d tie a string around those shimmering green bodies so we could hold on to all that humming.
Coming around the side of this deserted farmhouse, I was surprised to find the back door open, as if welcoming me in. I gingerly crossed the living-room floor, which was strewn with children’s toys and cereal boxes. It seemed, eerily, as if the family had hurriedly packed and left the night before—although it had to have been longer ago, judging by the thick dust coating everything. Perhaps South Dakota’s marginal rainfall and brutal weather were largely to blame for their sudden departure, having defeated many a farmer for more than a century. I paused in front of this living-room window with its shroud-like curtain and view of a distant silo. I slowly raised the camera to my eye. —RNW, from “Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image”
APERTURE WORKSHOP BOOK PARTY WITH ALEX, REBECCA, LARRY FINK, AND APERTURE EDITOR DENISE WOLFF: Saturday, Oct. 25, 3-4:30pm, Aperture Foundation, NYC
©Rebecca Norris Webb, “Abandoned Farmhouse I,” from “My Dakota” and “Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image
ONE TUITION-FREE WORKSHOP SCHOLARSHIP available for the upcoming FINDING YOUR VISION @ THE MIAMI STREET PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL. This scholarship is available to all photographers, 18 and older.
To apply, please email:
- 10 small jpgs (72dpi, 8 inches on longest side)
- Include a 100 word essay about your relationship with photography (such as student, passionate amateur, photojournalist, photography teacher, fine art photographer), and what you see as your next step photographically (in a word doc, if possible)
- Include your name, address
DEADLINE: MONDAY, OCTOBER 27TH, 2014
EMAIL THIS APPLICATION TO: Alex and Rebecca, firstname.lastname@example.org, and please place the word, SCHOLARSHIP, on the subject line.
To learn more about the FINDING YOUR VISION WORKSHOP IN MIAMI.
EVENTS AND WORKSHOPS:
—SATURDAY, OCT. 25, APERTURE FOUNDATION, NYC, 3-4:30PM: Join Aperture, Larry Fink, Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb for an afternoon of presentations and readings from the recently launched The Photography Workshop Series. In the series, Aperture works with the world’s top photographers to distill their creative approaches, teachings, and insights on photography—offering the workshop experience in a book.
Fink and the Webbs will present their titles, Larry Fink on Composition and Improvisation and Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image, followed by a Q&A with the books’ editor, Denise Wolff, and book signings. For more information on the book party follow this link.
——NEW WORKSHOP ADDED: FINDING YOUR VISION @ MIAMI STREET PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL, Monday Dec. 1-Friday Dec. 5, 2014.
CURRENT AND UPCOMING EXHIBITIONS, EVENTS, REVIEWS:
——THRU OCT. 31, BOSTON, MEMORY CITY at ROBERT KLEIN GALLERY; SLANT RHYMES at ARS LIBRI WITH ROBERT KLEIN GALLERY;
REVIEW OF THE TWO BOSTON SHOWS BY ELIN SPRING.
——FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7: CHICAGO: MEMORY CITY ARTIST RECEPTION, TALK, AND BOOK SIGNING, STEPHEN DAITER GALLERY: 5:30-8, with artist talk from 5:30-6pm
——PARIS PHOTO BOOK SIGNINGS, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 14, \Grand Palais, Paris: APERTURE BOOTH: 3:30pm book signing with the Webbs of “Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image” and Alex’s “The Suffering of Light”; SATURDAY, NOV. 15, 3:00pm at RADIUS BOOKS booth: Webb book signing of “Memory City” and some of the last copies of “My Dakota” and some of their limited editions.
——THURSDAY, SEPT. 18-November 1, 2013, “Rectangular Squares,” at Sepia Eye Gallery, NYC, a group exhibition with Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb, and other photographers. Sepia Eye is located at 547 W. 27th, 6th floor.
——SATURDAY, OCT. 11-OCT. 19, CASTELNUOVOFOTOGRAFIA FESTIVA, ITALY: CONTATTI: Contact sheets and prints of Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb, Jason Eskenazi, Donna Ferrato, Lucia Nimcova, Roger Ballen, Callie Shell, and Anders Petersen.
——MEMORY CITY REVIEW in Fraction
——SLANT RHYMES: Interview with Teju Cole and the Webb on the New Yorker Photo Booth