Unvarnished North Dakota

postcards500.jpg(Photo courtesy Alec Soth)

A year ago, Minnesota photographer Alec Soth and other members of the esteemed photo agency Magnum hopped in an RV and drove from San Antonio, Texas, to Oakland, Calif., tripping their shutters along the way and eventually producing a book called “Postcards from America.” A “thrilling experiment,” Soth recalls on his Little Brown Mushroom blog. And one that begat a second installment, in which members of another another Magnum posse took their cameras and individual perspectives to upstate New York, and posted some examples of their work on a Tumblr blog as they went.

As with the California work, the color and black-and-white collection of ordinary moments and subjects both random and posed is at once jarring, mesmerizing and compelling — it’s a visual reboot of the traditional photojournalism one associates with late Magnum legends such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, seeking to show Americans as they are, and not perhaps as the way they imagine themselves to be.

Now, another Magnum shooter, David Alan Harvey, whose work is more usually seen in the likes of National Geographic, has tipped off his followers that Magnum’s American road show is setting up camp next door to Minnesota, in North Dakota’s oil fields.

“Headed for a story called (by me) BIG MEN LOOK FOR BIG OIL,” he writes below a photo of himself cradling a beer in a Bismark Motel 6. “In about an hour we will get into our lumbering camper van and head for a town with a lot of rich people who have no place to live. Hence the camper. Williston, N. Dakota, struck oil. The wild wild west. A bunch of men making a lot of money and sleeping in their cars. Williston was not ready for this boom boom boom.”

Williston also may not be ready for Harvey and his cohorts Antoine D’Agata and Panos Skoulidas. They’ve been photoblogging their road trip at Looking For America 2012, showing some pretty rough-and-ready characters, gritty landscapes, motel happy hours complete with olives for martinis on the night stand, and black eyes. And you get the sense looking at the pictures that their coverage of the oil patch and its “man camps” is going to offer the kind of unvarnished perspective that oil economy boosters aren’t going to be putting in their annual reports.

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