Documenting the Rural West in a New Book From Lisa Wells and Bobby Abrahamson


Last year, we published an essay from Lisa Wells titled “She’s a Grand Old Flag: A Diary of Small Town America.” Accompanied by the photography of Bobby Abrahamson, Wells minutely detailed aspects of life in a small Oregon town. The larger project from which that was taken has now been released as a book, titled The West Behind UsAs we’re huge admirers of Wells’s writing (and, for that matter, Abrahamson’s photography), I think it’s fair to say that this definitely has our interest piqued.

The description doesn’t hurt:

The West Behind Us documents four small, rural towns in Oregon – Fields, Mitchell, Long Creek and Halfway – investigating the challenges faced by rural communities in an age of increased urbanization and economic depression. In the tradition of WPA era collaborations like James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the book includes 44 striking black and white photographs by documentary photographer Bobby Abrahamson, along with extensive interviews with residents, and first-person narrative by author Lisa Wells. As Dave Blanchard of Oregon Public Broadcasting writes about the project: “The two Portland-based artists understood the challenges of accuracy and exploitation inherent in documenting the lives of others. They traveled to the locations separately, not wanting to come across as offering a definitive account of the towns. They instead focused on their personal connections with the towns and the people who live there.” The results are two independent, complementary visions of life in rural America on the cusp of the urban millennium.

Wells and Abrahamson will be holding a release party for the book at Portland, Oregon’s Newspace Center for Photography on May 30th.

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