Book Review: West By
Lars Strandberg, Lars Aberg and Ronnie Nilsson Photographer Writer Designer
08/01/2012 05:56PM ● Published by Denise Brown
Book Review By Delphine Lucas
I love this book! Three Swedish men share their adventures in the American West using photographs, lyrical prose and design as the mediums to convey their love affair with America’s breath-taking western landscapes and ways of life.
They have traveled in the U.S. since the 70’s, and recently collaborated on this coffee table book project. They bring to us high quality artistic photographs and poetic writing in a book simply called West.
West is a snapshot in time of the early 21st century western U.S., what it looks and feels like to travel through the open spaces of Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, and Arizona (mostly). The focus of the book is on lifestyles and the creation of ways of life of people who have chosen the west as their home. The Swedes’ greatest love, however, is the lifestyle of the disappearing American cowboy and cowboy poetry. Many Europeans are magnetically drawn to the cowboy’s relationship to the land and their horses and freedom from a materialistic lifestyle, and these three men are no exception. They bring their modern European artistic sensibilities to give us a truly magnificent book.
Each photograph in this book is a work of art on its own. Many of the photographs are portraits of cowboys and cow- girls, many of whom are middle-aged and elderly. There are photographs of abandoned hotels, buildings, and signs.
The photographer, Strandberg, focuses on the shabby, rusty, rustic, and formalist elements of these objects, works of art left out for the traveler to peruse on the American landscape. And the color! These pictures celebrate color photography at its best. On so many levels this book gave me a visual feast.
I liked the writing even more than the photos, although neither is meant to be separated from one another. They are individually stronger presented together. What drew me into the book was the imagery of the words chosen by the writer to show us why people head west.So many books and movies embrace this theme, that just anyone taking it on can make their work come across as tired and cliche. Lars Aberg, West’s writer, is not just anyone. Not only is he an extremely gifted writer in a second language, to boot, but he is Sweden’s foremost film-maker, an artist (he designed the textiles for the Stockholm Metro’s seats), and a musician, who plays in The Electric Banana Band formed in conjunction with a famous children’s program that he created. He is one of Sweden’s creative geniuses.
I felt as though I was a traveler accompanying these art- ists to places I had not heard of or have been to before, as well as seeing familiar places again through different eyes. I was especially intrigued by the writing about the experimental village of Arcosanti, Paolo Soleri’s creation north of Phoenix, and Elko, Nevada, home of the largest yearly cowboy poetry festival anywhere, featured in the book. I love to seek out places that come to me incidentally, as a reader. Arcosanti and Elko are both places I will add to my travel list.
The third person involved in this book project is the designer, Ronnie Nilsson. Just opening the book and seeing the inside cover, which is usually empty white space in most books, is a visual delight. It is a photograph of the desert, and I am still not sure if it has been manipulated by some editing and enhancement software. That thought, on it’s own engaged me, wondering how the work was created. It is an incredibly beautiful picture of the desert, yet something about it is not quite like a real photograph. Yet, for many of us, the desert is deceptive in portraying reality.
It feels like the publisher who provided us this book to review sent a real treasure, down to every detail. Even the rib- bon bookmarks are a gift. A superb book!