Quite simply, my favourite book. Its actually a collection of photographs taken over a five year period in, as the title suggests – the American West. I came across this book about four years ago when it was in the possession of my housemate Darren, and I've coveted it ever since! I've had it on my 'to buy' list for a while but during a recent 'clear out', Darren very kindly gave it to me as he knew how much I prized it. Its a book I come back to time and time again.
Roberto Lopez, Oil field worker.
Lyons, Texas, 09/28/80
Charlene Van Tighem, Physical Therapist
Augusta, Montona 06/26/83
James Kimberlin, Drifter
State Road 18, Hobbs, New Mexico, 10/07/80
Myrna Sandoval, eighteen year old, and her sister Claudia, fourteen year old.
El Paso, Texas, 04/20/82
Clarence Lippard – Drifter
Insterstate 80, Sparks, Nevada 08/29/83
Richard Garber, Drifter
Interstate 15, Provo, Utah, 08/20/80
Benson James, Drifter
Route 66, Gallup, New Mexico, 06/30/79
Avedon's method was to place his subject against a large sheet of white paper and photograph them with a Deardorff (means nothing to me!), a large camera similar to those used by portrait photographers.
Avedon 'chose men and women who work at hard, uncelebrated jobs, the people who are often ignored or overlooked'. It is though, the drifters who amaze me. Who are they? How have they come to be where they are? Where are they from? Where are they going? What stories could they tell about their life drifting from place to place?
For me, these pictures are mesmerising on their own, but along with an explanation, they become something more.
As Laura Wilson explains –
'On August 22nd, 1980, we were eating breakfast at Keith's Lunch and Breakfast in Provo, Utah. A man sat facing us, two booths away. He was gaunt and dirty. He gestured, rolled his eyes, crying as he talked to himself. It was difficult to tell his age. He looked different than the local people in the booths around him. We wondered how to approach him. But when Avedon introduced himself, the man was glad to talk.
His name was Richard Garber. Months before, he had come up from the south to look for work in Utah. He talked about losing his car. It had been impounded for a parking violation and had no money to get it back. His life was painful, he said, and he wanted to die. He went up into the mountains, alone, for four weeks. He had no food. Once he heard the whine of a train whistle as it snaked along the Utah Valley. He hated the sound. "A train whistle is the loneliest sound you'll ever hear."
Just that moring Gaber had walked down from the mountains. He had tried to telephone his mother in a distant state but was told she had been put in a mental institution. He was standing on the corner of Center Street, next to the post office, when a man gave him some money for breakfast at Keith's.
In front of the white seamless paper, in the shade, with only a thin jacket over his 'Mardis Gras' T–shirt, he shivered.'
An amazing piece of work.