Postcards From America: Five Photographers, a Writer, Two Weeks and a Bus

Magnum Photographers Alec Soth, Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Mikhael Subotsky, and writer Ginger Strand are a bunch of friends going on a homespun adventure; a two week road trip, from May 11-26, across America. Rather than a super group on a stadium tour, the Postcards From America trip will be more in the spirit of a band going back to a small venue tour — a tour where they have to drive their own van and haul their own gear. Soth, the instigator of the project, says that “this trip is about getting back to the basics. Magnum is a large, multi-national organization with a lot of staff and infrastructure. A bunch of us were hungry to strip things down and work closely together like they did in the early days of Magnum.” The hope that this will be the first of a series of trips leading up to the next election.

“In recent years, Magnum has been great about covering various journalist hot spots around the globe. But I think we’ve neglected the United States, a bit,” says Soth. The route is planned — San Antonio to Oakland, with a talk at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin and a pop-up show at the Starline Ballroom in Oakland.  The trip also consciously takes into account the interests of the the participating photographers: borders, teenagers, conservative America and the politics of water. Soth points out that there will be plenty of room for happenstance and improvisation along the way.

“This is entirely experimental. None of us have worked this way and we’re out of our comfort zones,” Soth says, “but that is what makes it all so exciting. I can’t wait to see how Susan Meiselas responds to having only a day in each place rather than doing the long term work which is her preference. And it will be interesting to watch the dynamic between a great editorial photographer like Paolo Pellegrin and a great fine art photographer like Jim Goldberg.”

The photographers have taken on different responsibilities during the project. Alec the blog, Jim the gallery. Although Mikhael, who hails from South Africa, is less familiar with America, he too has been a real driving force in the project. “Mikhael had the idea of us each taking turns as directors on the trip. So in Las Vegas, for example, Susan is running the show. Since she’s interested in the subject of sex trafficking, Susan might have one of us photographing at a suburban sex worker, another of us photographing a pimp, and so on. The idea [is] that in order to expand on each photographer’s interests, they would each commission the others for a day along the route is an interesting proposition, particularly for Soth, whose work is the most introspective of the group. “One of the reasons I participate in Magnum is that I tend to be so inward looking. Magnum keeps me honest about the social side of things.”

The photographers are raising funds for the trip online, through print, postcard and publication pre-orders. They have also started a blog which charts their inspiration, shares their conversations and will ultimately enable their audience to follow their journey. The audience can also contribute their own pictures via Flickr. Soth says, “We haven’t spent tens of thousands of dollars setting up a site. We are using Tumblr and Flickr, technologies that our audience use, to get the project out there.” In almost every sense, the project is a return to the simple beginnings of Magnum; a small group friends and photographers working on something that inspires, excites and interests them, without the politics and baggage of the organization and its history.

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