Deteriorating road signage, abandoned buildings and an aging motel. Doesn’t sound like the ideal overnight stop on a Cross-Canada road trip. But for George Webber, it’s a photographer’s paradise.
George is a renowned documentary photographer with an affection for Canada’s prairie landscapes, people and culture. His latest collection Alberta Book: Photographs by George Webber focuses on the vernacular architecture, abandoned townscapes and fading commercial signage from 1950s and 1960s rural Alberta. The 200 colour photographs assembled in this collection have been selected from an archive of work spanning nearly 40 years.
We sat down with George to talk about his draw to rural Alberta, what inspires his art and the hunt for the elusive “perfect shot”:
What are some of your favourite subjects to photograph? I have a special affection for the people, culture and architectural heritage of the Canadian prairies.
What is it about photography that inspired you to carve out a career for yourself? I’d never really thought about photography as a career and until one day I stumbled upon a book of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson. That book changed my life. After seeing it I knew that I wanted to be a photographer. Cartier Bresson’s ability to capture life as it unfolded, his graphic prowess and the way that he paid respectful attention to the commonplace hit me like a lightning bolt. That was 44 years ago.
Who or what are you most inspired by? I’m greatly inspired by the traditions of documentary photography. I try to honor those traditions in my own work. I’m especially inspired by the work of Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and William Eggleston.
When do you feel like you’ve captured the “perfect shot”? I often don’t know that for a long time. My practice is to photograph and then set the work aside for a year or more before going back to look at it carefully. It’s then that I have a better sense of what has succeeded and how individual photographs can compliment each other when they are grouped together for an exhibition or book.
What draws you to rural landscapes like the ones featured in Alberta Book? I was born in Drumheller and grew up in small town Alberta. These places are an important part of my family heritage. I identify strongly with them and I have a keen urge to capture them before they vanish forever.
How do you continue to grow your skills as an artist and photographer? I’m fortunate to work with some very skilled colleagues who are generous with their knowledge and support. Just about everything that I know about the craft of photography continues to come from what they share with me.
With deteriorating signage that remains almost garishly bright; chrome details from vintage automobiles that still sparkle in the sun; and abandoned landscapes that echo with the whispers of residents long gone, Alberta Book captures and preserves an important part of the province’s visual heritage with a warm affection for the humble and reticent structures of Alberta’s past.