大图景: sandcastles on America’s final frontier

Ĵoan Didion, philosopher-in-chief of the American west, once observed that the Pacific coast was a place “in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things better work out here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.”

Paul McDonough’s 1970s photographs from that coast, collected in a new book, Headed West, seem to share in that unease. In this picture, from a small resort town in Oregon, the cars on the beach, long noses toward the salt air of the ocean, look impatient to go further; the great American road trip has run out of road. In the foreground, their younger occupants are acting on instincts to make their mark here, however temporary, building castles in the sand to rival that great lump of rock rising out of the sea, and echoing the covered-wagon generations before them who staked unlikely claims to frontier land at the end of the Oregon trail.

McDonough, 现在 80, has had Alzheimer’s disease for a number of years. The new book was in part an effort to order his archive while enough clarity of memory remains. He made his name as a street photographer in New York, characteristically up close and personal with faces in a crowd. Beginning in the late 1960s, he went west on increasingly frequent excursions to observe those who had gone to find a bit of light and space, a place to dream. His pictures capture the freedom and the vacancy of that impulse. Buildings are low-slung and sprawling, people are scattered almost randomly on seafronts or stand in small groups in bermudas and bikinis, half-inspired by the styles of the counterculture of the previous decade, not quite turned on or tuned in, waiting for something to happen.

Headed West is published by Stanley/Barker, £36

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