April 6 – July 17, 2023


Opening Reception is Thursday, April 6, at 6 pm.
The artists will lead an informal gallery talk.

And what is empty turns its face to us/ and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open”
—Tomas Tranströmer

This exhibition by creative partners Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb brings together two linked yet distinct photographic visions of North Dakota.

As a fellow Dakotan, Rebecca Norris Webb takes a poetic and intimate look at the natural world of North Dakota. Her work often explores those places where the natural world and one’s inner landscape meet, especially during times of change, upheaval, and shifting weathers—both meteorological and metaphysical. Her storytelling serves as a map for when one’s loss seems to have its own geography, most notedly with her book and NDMOA exhibition, My Dakota: An Elegy for My Brother Who Died Unexpectedly. Drawn to the great openness of the mixed grass prairie and the broken, surreal beauty of the South Dakota badlands while grieving for her brother, Norris Webb began photographing in the North Dakota badlands. The badlands, too, felt like a kind of geography of grief for Theodore Roosevelt as a young man, who lost his mother and wife on the same day—of this moment he wrote: the “light went out of my life.” During this devastating time, Roosevelt moved to the North Dakota badlands, which slowly kindled his lifelong love of the Western landscape, as well as ultimately transforming him into “the conservationist president,” who would end up protecting some 230 million acres of public land during his presidency. Following a similar path, Norris Webb photographed other North Dakota landscapes resonant with loss and memory, including the Lincoln Drive Park, once home to some 350 residences lost in the 1997 Red River flood in Grand Forks; and the Fort Totten Historical Site, once an Indian boarding school, which was part of a former U.S. program designed “to kill the Indian” in tens of thousands of Native American children through forced assimilation practices. As she continued traveling across the state in August 2022, Norris Webb was guided by North Dakota’s ever-shifting light and weathers: from the dark stormy skies over a luminous yellow canola field near Starkweather—to the Gumbo Lilies near Medora, which bloom at night from the crevices of the badlands, only during those summers with enough rainfall.

Meanwhile, Alex Webb, raised predominantly in New England, has been described as a “shadow sociologist” by writer Pico Iyer. The author of some 20 books—including Amazon, Istanbul, La Calle: Photographs from Mexico, and the collaborative book and NDMOA exhibition Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs from Cuba with Rebecca Norris Webb—he has photographed in more than 50 countries and 200 cities around the world, sometimes commissioned by museums and other cultural institutions as well as such magazines as National Geographic, Geo, and The New York Times Magazine. Webb takes a more global and often urban approach to North Dakota. During two trips to the state in August 2019 and August 2022, he photographed in the parks, neighborhoods, and flea markets of the more populated cities and towns of the state, including Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Williston. He also photographed at various festivals and other events across the state, including the Icelandic Festival in Mountain, the Spirit Lake Professional Bull Riders on the Spirit Lake Reservation, the Morton County Fair and Rodeo in New Salem, and the Twin Buttes Powwow south of the Missouri River on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Additionally, Webb photographed neighborhood celebrations, which include some of the most recent residents in North Dakota, a state, which over the past decade, has resettled over 4,000 refugees, and, for several years, its total refugees per capita was the highest in the nation.

In order to create a more multi-layered portrait of North Dakota, the creative couple have interwoven their work in this exhibition—powwows and sunflower fields, rodeos and buffalo herds, twilight street scenes and badlands nightscapes. The Great Open is their seventh collaboration, including projects about a country (Cuba), a city (Rochester, NY); a borough (Brooklyn); a town (Wellfleet, MA); and now a state (North Dakota).

The artists want to thank the North Dakota Museum of Art and the National Endowment for the Arts for their support in creating this body of work—with a special thanks to NDMOA Founding Director Laurel Reuter and NDMOA Director Matthew Wallace—as well as all the North Dakotans who invited them into their lives and their landscapes.

Artist Bios

Alex Webb has published some twenty photography books, including The Suffering of Light, a survey book of thirty years of his color photographs. He’s exhibited at museums worldwide including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He has been a Magnum Photos member since 1979, and his work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and other publications. He has received numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007. His most recent books include La Calle: Photographs from Mexico and the collaborations with Rebecca Norris Webb, Brooklyn: The City Within, exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York, and Waves. Webb is currently working on a project photographing U.S. cities.

Originally a poet, Rebecca Norris Webb often interweaves her text and photographs in her nine books, most notably in her monograph, My Dakota—an elegy for her brother who died unexpectedly—for which a solo exhibition of the work appeared at The Cleveland Museum of Art, the North Dakota Museum of Art, among other venues. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Le Monde, and The New York Times Magazine, and is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the George Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York. Rebecca is a 2019 NEA grant recipient. Her most recent monograph is Night Calls—in which she retraced the route of some of her now 102-year-old country doctor father’s house calls through the same rural county where they both were born. She’s currently working on a project in the Dakotas, called Badlands.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Sunflowers, South of Lake Sakakawea, ND, 2022.
Type C Archival Digital Prints.

Rebecca Norris Webb, Gumbo Lilies, near Medora, ND, 2022.
Type C Archival Digital Prints.

Alex Webb, Williston, ND, 2022.
Type C Archival Digital Prints.

Alex Webb, Minot, ND, 2022.
Type C Archival Digital Prints.

Exhibition Partner:
This program is supported by a grant from
the National Endowment for the Arts.

This program is supported by a grant from the National Endowment
for the Arts through the Community Foundation of Grand Forks,
East Grand Forks & Region.