To Look for America

Sohrab Hura’s journey to fulfil his father’s desire

01 March 2020
“Bird House,” Louisiana.
courtesy sohrab hura
“Bird House,” Louisiana.
courtesy sohrab hura

Some of the most seminal works in photography have used the idea of the road trip to define who Americans are. Walker Evans spent a decade during the Great Depression compiling his masterpiece American Photographs. Robert Frank’s The Americans portrayed the angst-ridden post-war United States of the 1950s. In the 1970s, Stephen Shore captured the textures of American life in American Surfaces, while in the early 2000s, Alec Soth’s poetic series, Sleeping by the Mississippi, portrayed life along the country’s second-longest river. These photographers journeyed through the “open road,” capturing the essence of their nation, standing witness to the world they chronicled.

The Levee, the Magnum associate Sohrab Hura’s photographic journey along the Mississippi River, follows this road map, with full recognition of his position as an outsider. Unlike his predecessors, Hura did not intend to define America. The Levee is both reflective of the land he saw and the personal relationship he had with it. First exhibited as part of a group show last August at the Experimenter Gallery in Kolkata, it was recently displayed at the Cincinnati Arts Museum in the United States.

In the spring of 2016, Hura was invited by his Magnum colleagues Soth and Jim Goldberg for a road trip through the American south, as part of the sixth and final edition of their project Postcards from America. The experimental collaboration began in 2011 and produced rich documentary content that visually explores the post-millennial United States. “The whole idea behind Postcards from America—at least, the last trip that I was part of—was to travel with a bunch of people who connected and discover what came along the way,” Hura told me during his Kolkata exhibition.

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    Jennifer Kishan is an independent photographer and writer based in Kolkata. Her areas of interest are arts and culture, migration and issues of social justice.

    Keywords: Magnum photographers American literature landscape photography Donald Trump racism