JTF (just the facts): A total of 14 large scale color photographs, framed in blond wood and unmatted, and hung against white walls in two adjoining gallery spaces. All of the works are type c-prints, made in 2012. The images are shown in two sizes: 20×30 and 30×40 (or reverse); no edition information was provided on the checklist. The show includes 7 prints in the small size and 7 prints in the large size. A monograph of this body of work was published in 2012 by Radius Books (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Written directly on the white painted wall and scrawled in pencil in the artist’s swirling handwriting, the question “does loss have its own geography?” hovers underneath this intimate exhibit of photographs. Of course, it’s a leading question, one with an affirmative answer embodied by the quiet melancholy of the images that surround it. But as framing mechanism and a way of setting tone, it works, forcing us to look at Rebecca Norris Webb’s landscapes with a different sense for their physical and emotional terrain.
Webb’s original project was a “get out of the city and go back to the open skies of home” kind of road trip, a mind freshening exchange of the urban environment of New York for the badlands and prairies of South Dakota. But this classic American impulse was upended by the sudden death of her brother, turning her endless days of driving into a personal journey of reflection and mourning. The result is s set of pictures infused with a dark, searching mood, interrupted by obscured views and filled with thoughtful absence.
Many of Webb’s landscapes turn standard Midwestern scenes into moments of shiveringly alone, sigh-filled despair. Plastic shopping bags tumble across the dusty grey skied plains, getting caught on barbed wire fences. A flock of ominous blackbirds settles down over the burned out husks of a dry field of sunflowers. And a pronghorn deer lies dead on the ground, outlined by gathering flecks of windswept ice. There is a common motif of the fleeting or the broken, in either case, frustratingly out of reach for the person behind the camera.
Webb also effectively uses windows and mirrors to close down her vision. A sheer white curtain of an abandoned farmhouse partially obscures the dingy rubbish out in the yard, yellow drapes block the tunneled view of a nighttime snowstorm, and the slightly tinted glass of her rolled down car window gives her vista of the dotted hills a grimmer coloring. Given her particular story about the loss of a brother, the reflected silhouette of a small boy seen in the glass of a framed state map is achingly sad. All of these visual mechanisms reinforce the sense of being hemmed in, even in a place with such broad open skies.
Together, Webb’s photographs deliver a kind of broken hearted lyricism we don’t see very often; she lets her grief come through unfiltered and the landscapes are infused with her numbed sorrow. It is indeed her Dakota, a place where genuine personal emotion has seeped into the land.
Collector’s POV: The prices for the works in this exhibit are as follows. The 20×30 prints are $2700, while the 30×40 prints are $4250. Webb’s work has little or no secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.