Big thanks to Ted Forbes over at The Art of Photography for pointing me to to it, and to Allah for granting me the ability to go and visit it. You can check out Ted’s podcast on this for his take. It was really nice to visit a museum again: it’s been awhile.
Laura Wilson, like Ron Haviv, sorta, is the real deal, according to Ted Forbes, “one of the most important photographers working today.” She assisted Richard Alvedon during his In the American West period, which is rather interesting, but what’s most impressive is the access she’s gained over the years to various closed communities in, well, the American West.
That Day collects images from at least a dozen different, multi-year projects, from 6 man football and those weird Society of Martha Washington debutante balls in West Texas, to portraits of artists, writers and actors known for their Western presence (there’s a really nice one of Donald Judd, taken in the last weeks of his life), to the more interesting presences, like dog and cock fighters, and people who traditionally shy away from cameras for more religious reasons, like the Hutterites up in Montana.
To get these pictures, Ms. Wilson spent years, in some cases, getting to know the people, visiting, hanging around, and just making herself known as friendly and non-threatening. As far as photographing people and communities goes, this is a different approach from that undertaken by, for example, most street photographers, and it results in far more sensitive portrayals, even if some of her subjects look, to me, like the devil.
I couldn’t find this picture on the internets, so I snapped a copy with my phone. This old guy looks like someone who’d offer some kind of a trade out at the crossroads on some lonely night…
As far as photobooks go, That Day is a great retrospective and has some great pictures in it. In my first viewing of it, I focused largely on what was pictured, and less on the photographs themselves. What I did notice, photograph wise, is the grain: many of the black & white, and most of the color photographs have a high level of analog grain, probably something like iso 400, maybe 800, and one—a picture of Avedon with a burned soldier—looks like a small reflection in one corner of a 35mm frame that was cropped and flipped and blown up way too big. Wilson knows what she’s doing with the camera, for sure, and her ability to gain trust and access is a great achievement. In sha’Allah I’ll keep looking, reading, and thinking about photography, and maybe I’ll get to a point where I really see the photographs, rather than what is depicted in them.
Since you likely missed the show, pick up a copy of the book, especially if you’re interested in communities in the western half of the US.