George Webber’s most recent project, “Saskatchewan Book” is the amalgamation of time, place and emotion, all beautifully represented in a series of photographs. With the upcoming launch of “Saskatchewan Book”, I took the opportunity to interview George about how “Saskatchewan Book” came to be and what his experience was like during this project. With answers as poetic as his images, George gives us the opportunity to experience another side of “Saskatchewan Book”.
Going back to the very beginning, what inspired you to pursue this project?
Many years ago I became aware of the work of documentary photographers who had a special interest in place. Eugene Atget’s photographs of Paris and Walker Evans’ photographs of the American south during the depression were powerful inspirations.
Why the province of Saskatchewan in particular?
I’ve been photographing the Canadian prairies for over 40 years. This is where I’m from, and as William Faulkner wrote, “I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.” I was initially drawn to the small communities of southern Alberta and soon realized that Saskatchewan had similar rich stories to tell.
Did you have a vision for this book? Did anything go better than expected or differently?
I never planned to do a book on Saskatchewan. I just wanted to spend time making photographs of the fine, spare vernacular architecture. Most of the work in this book has never been published or exhibited before. It sat in binders and boxes and hard drives until I proposed a book to my publisher several years ago.
Why did you choose the title “Saskatchewan Book”? Does it have any deeper meaning?
We chose the title for my previous book ALBERTA BOOK for its alliterative quality. Can’t say the same for SASKATCHEWAN BOOK but it is a companion volume, and it is a book, and it is about Saskatchewan so that seemed like an appropriate title.
In your description, it says you have been working on “Saskatchewan Book” for over 30 years. Has this been constant, or off and on as you worked on other projects?
I love the idea of returning to a place. Photography seems wonderfully equipped to chronicle and measure the passage of time. I just chipped away on the Saskatchewan project off and on for many years when I had the time.
What made you choose to take this amount of time to work on this project? When did you know you were done?
I don’t like to rush things. I enjoy projects that I can spend years on, returning to them over and over again. I hope I’m not finished photographing Saskatchewan yet.
Do you have a favourite image (or collection of images)?
SASKATCHEWAN BOOK isn’t so much about individual images. It’s more about the way the photographs play off each other and inform each other. When you flip through the book you’ll notice themes based on color, themes based on design and themes based on the function of the architecture.
Do you have any favourite memories from this project?
The extraordinary stillness and silence and space that characterizes Saskatchewan is mesmerizing and poignant in equal parts.
Are there any specific details about the book that goes deeper than just the images?
Cumulatively the photographs seem to suggest something of the values and aspirations of the people of Saskatchewan. Theirs is a reticent art that conceals its art.
Is there anything else about “Saskatchewan Book” that you’d like your audience to know?
I loved what Lorna Crozier wrote in her introduction to the book calling the photographs “shrines to an absence and a power that approaches the holy”.
Breathtaking. Thank you, George, for giving me the opportunity to dive into “Saskatchewan Book” and giving us a glimpse into your perspective on this project.
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