Wednesday, August 5, 2009

That's not my West

There's a lovely romantic aura to the West that you don't find with other areas of the country - New Jersey, for example. Between the topographical extremes (Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Big Sur) and the huge expanses of inhabited land (I'll stop here, lest William Shatner reads this out loud), there's something very striking about the West.
In our new book Into the Sunset: photography's image of the American West, editor Eva Respini has brought together images of dusty roads, suburban sprawl, cowboys and characters. The photos span a century and a half, from the 1860's & the incursion of the railroads into the territory of the Native Americans to the real estate boom in the 1960's and the depressing urban culture of today.
Respini is an assistant curator, Department of Photography, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This probably explains why, in a book of 133 plates, there is only a half-dozen photos from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. To people back East, the American West always means cowboys, cactus and sun. The majority of the pictures are from the desert West: Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Texas. I think perhaps that is the reason why to overall feel of the book is sad, dry, dusty and lonely. The images in this book are hot and thirsty, with no rain or snow to cool the soul.
This is somebody else's West. I don't think it's mine.

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