Photo-book Review - David Hurn: Arizona Trips

This book could quite possibly be the most important book to me that I have bought so far. This booked has travelled thousands of miles with me and was the single biggest inspiration to my latest project ‘Golden?’.

Photo 1

In 1979-80 Hurn was awarded a Bicentennial Fellowship which allowed him to spend a year in America in which he chose to spend photographing Arizona. The work in this book follows Hurn over his numerous trips across the state between the years of 1979 and 2001.

The interview Hurn has with Sir Christopher Frayling gives a great insight into the reasoning and ideas behind the project which is a great source of information especially for new artists that are looking to find inspiration for their works.

Arizona being one of, if not, the driest state in the US compared to Wales (Hurn’s home country) being the wettest in the UK coupled with Arizona’s at the time right-wing views opposed to Wales’ left-wing views gave Hurn the perfect contrast which certainly helped inform his documentary process. Having such an explicit contrast helps underline and accentuate the key parts in the local life that makes their world tick.

[Arizona was] the exact opposite of my home country Wales. The contrast appealed to me.
— David Hurn -

Something this abundantly clear within Hurn’s work is that he doesn’t intervene. He doesn’t stage. Hurn lets life happen around him and then documents it as it presents itself. This approach to photography isn’t unique to Hurn’s work. This approach has been a staple in documentary photography for decades especially in the realm of the Magnum Photographers. However, what stands out to me about this work is Hurn’s eye for details and by this, I do not mean seeing something in the distance but more in the way of seeing into a culture just by looking at the items and people that they surround themselves with. This is shown throughout the book such as page 49 showing a ‘Secret Indian’ book in the ‘Brand New Used Books’ section of an Arizonan library or page 60 that shows three young female cheerleaders - two of them looking bored out of their minds. This eye for cultural details is something that I have tried to absorb and built into my own work.

One of the great things about photography is that whatever level it’s done at, almost by definition it gets better because it takes on historical associations, sociological associations etc. Even a bad photograph is interesting if we can say people didn’t wear socks at that time! In 50 years time that’s of interest
— David Hurn in Conversation with Cultural Historian Sir Christopher Frayling