“They say your first death is like your first love—and you’re never quite the same afterwards,” says Rebecca Norris Webb. The artist, who has long lived in New York City, embarked in 2005 to photograph her home state of South Dakota. After one of her brothers unexpectedly died the following year, her images began to change. Tones became more muted and delicate, the palette more autumnal. Descriptive views ceded to lyrical, enigmatic visions of a present imbued with the past. The series evolved into an elegy for her brother. “For months,” wrote the artist, “one of the few things that eased my unsettled heart was the landscape of South Dakota.”
Norris Webb describes the state as “dominated by space and silence and solitude, by brutal wind and extreme weather.” Her initial goal was to “capture what all that space feels like to someone who grew up there” and produce “a more intimate and personal view of the West” that would counteract and complement the majestic landscape views and roughneck adventure scenes of earlier photographers and painters. Her color photographs of fields, farms, town life, and wildlife grapple with humans’ impact on the land and how it has shaped their lives. They also form a eulogy for disappearing family farms and the small towns supported by them.
On view will be about thirty color photographs and a poem written by the artist; she is a poet of place whose five books include My Dakota in addition to projects on zoos, Cuba, and Rochester, New York. My Dakota captures not just the state’s changing economy and landscape but also a personal catharsis. Norris Webb came to understand the series as a means of addressing her grief—“to try to absorb it, to distill it, and, ultimately, to let it go.”