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photo-eye Book Reviews: My Dakota

My Dakota. Photographs by Rebecca Norris Webb.
Published by Radius Books, 2012.
My Dakota
Reviewed by Tom Leininger 

My Dakota
Photographs by Rebecca Norris Webb. Edited by Alex Webb. Text by Rebecca Norris Webb. 
Radius Books, 2012. Hardbound. 112 pp., 42 color illustrations, 11-1/2x9-3/4".

Do not think of this book as a chance to see Rebecca Norris Webb's home state of South Dakota. It is not. Think of it more as a visual journal on loss. Not loss for a time that has passed, but a more personal grief. Rebecca Norris Webb made a series of photographs where the landscape is loss, specifically, that of her brother who died suddenly. Norris Webb begins the book by saying it is an elegy for home. The tone is set from the start.

In the afterword Norris Webb wonders: "...does loss have its own geography?" Reading that statement after going through the book for the first time my answer is yes, but it is not on a map. She clearly found it. It is unique to her. It is out there through the layers of pain. It is a geography that is moving and changing. It is the geography of pain.

My Dakota, by Rebecca Norris Webb. Published by Radius Books, 2012.
The book is not wrapped in nostalgia. Its strength lies in the layered photographs where Norris Webb is looking for something in the distance, but what it is is not clear. It could be a memory. There is something between her and what is out there. Reflections and windows play an important role in layering the images with mystery and a sense of disconnectedness. Each photograph is open to interpretation and that room allows the reader to find their own memory of loss to complete it. The language of Norris Webb's photographs is personal, but universal.

My Dakota, by Rebecca Norris Webb. Published by Radius Books, 2012.
My Dakota, by Rebecca Norris Webb. Published by Radius Books, 2012.
As an object the book has an intimate feel to it. It is sized 11½x9¾", which forces one to bring the book closer. South Dakota is a land of open spaces and that feeling is repeated in the book with the use of white space and blank pages. The photographs are given room to breathe, to let the pain have space. One of the strongest elements of the book is the use of Norris Webb's handwriting in pencil. It adds to the feeling of a journal. Her unique penmanship streams across pages connecting the pictures to her personal narrative. The handwriting and the photograph printed on the cover are extra details that set Radius Books apart from other publishers.

My Dakota, by Rebecca Norris Webb. Published by Radius Books, 2012.
Norris Webb sets the book up as an elegy for her brother. The sense of loss is palatable, but it feels like a love poem for the land and for her brother. It is a not a South Dakota that can be found on any map. It exists only in the book and comes through clearly.—TOM LEININGER

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TOM LEININGER is a photographer and educator based in North Texas. More of his work can be found on his website.

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