The Layton, Utah publisher Gibbs Smith has a well-deserved reputation for publishing books that celebrate the American West, and company founder Gibbs Smith is high on a fall book that takes a different look at the region and its culture. West, set for release November 1, is by the Swedish team of journalist Lars Aberg and photographer Lars Strandberg. “I could see from the first that it was an interesting, European look at the American West,” said Smith, who acquired the book after the Western Folklife Organization brought Aberg and Strandberg to his attention.
Aberg and Strandberg based West on five two-week journeys to the area, the first in 2004. “Both of us have grown up with American culture—music, literature, movies, art, and photography—and quite a lot of it is placed in a western context,” explained Aberg, who has written several nonfiction books, two about Native Americans. “The landscape... attracted us and so did the mythology of the west with its various notions of freedom and independence. It’s a canvas on which everyone can project his or her own fantasies and opinions about the U.S.”
In addition to landscape images, a good portion of the book includes intimate interviews with and portraits of individuals, many of them Native Americans, that the two met during their visits. Being Swedish made no difference to establishing these relationships. “In our experience, people are open toward newcomers that behave gently and friendly and don’t shove cameras in their faces,” Aberg said. “It’s really about being human. We take our time and let things unfold on their own terms.”
Aberg and Strandberg immersed themselves in western culture. “The concept of cowboy poetry was actually a starting point for our book project,” Aberg said. The first time he and Strandberg attended the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, held each winter in Elko, Nev., they were enchanted. “Within the ranch culture there is a constant struggle between the romance and the hard work. We liked the idea that something so physically demanding can also inspire so much tenderness and sentimentality.”
Kvallsposten (The Evening Post), a major Swedish daily, gave a rave review to West when it was published in Sweden last year. Critic Eva Sternang wrote, “Lars Strandberg’s pictures tell a languishing story and seem to glow from within themselves. Close to the images, Lars Aberg’s words... are unexpectedly poetic. West is the most tempting advertisement for the U.S. that I’ve seen in a long time.”
West, priced at $45, has a 3,000-copy first printing with an e-book in the works. Promotional plans are still being developed, but the authors are planning to return to the U.S. to work on another book and at that time the publisher will set up speaking engagements in bookstores and other venues where they will show photographs and talk about the west from their point of view.