West of West
By Sarah Lee and Laura Barton
A photographic exploration of the edge of America at the end of Route 66 and Santa Monica Pier
Publication date: March 2020Support this project
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The acclaimed photographer Sarah Lee and Guardian journalist Laura Barton travel to the edge of America at the end of Route 66 to find out what the American West means in an age of political turbulence
Santa Monica, where the wooden pier juts out into the Pacific Ocean, marks the end of Route 66. The great American journey West culminates here, with a ferris wheel, and a rock shop, and a branch of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.
It is this short stretch of coast that Sarah Lee began shooting in 2015 - casually at first, a few photographs taken on holiday, but soon it grew compulsive, with more and more of her bi-annual trip to Los Angeles spent down by the pier in Santa Monica.
Back then, America and the California coast seemed to mean something quite different. But as the months and this project unfolded, America’s identity has been reshaped - by an election, by gathering questions of immigration, environment, gender, race, sexual assault, and gun ownership.
Meanwhile the beach has remained much the same: the sun undaunted, tourists strolling the boardwalks, gulls, burger bars, daytrippers, surfers. The levelling, visceral pleasures of our leisure hours — of shoreline, pink skin, swimmers in their underwear. “Tender, human moments,” as Sarah puts it, “that unite, not divide.”
Sarah Lee and Laura Barton have worked together for close to 20 years, often in America, and have a shared fascination with this land.
“I’m British but I’m fascinated by America,” says Sarah. “I got married in California, my husband works here, my Mother is a naturalised American citizen. We’re on the edge of some strange precipice in terms of American and even Western politics, but on the beach in California your mind gets sort of bleached by the sun and the waves and the sand, and it’s hard to believe that the country is going through any kind of torment about its identity.”
Much of Laura’s writing and broadcasting has been concerned with the American landscape and culture, and this project will be an opportunity for her to look at the idea of the West in shaping American identity; at notions of the frontier and idealism, its representations in literature and art and song, from Frederick Jackson Turner to Walt Whitman and the Beach Boys. And of course to consider what the American West means today in an age of political turbulence, when the East is the rising global force, and the frontier is shifting once more.
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Sarah Lee is a London-based photographer who works for The Guardian, specialising in portraiture features and the arts. Sarah studied English Literature at University College London in the late 1990s and used the time not spent in libraries to train herself as a photographer. She has also been published by TIME, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Intelligent Life and Vanity Fair among others. In 2011-2012 she shot the portrait campaign for Coldplay’s MX album and tour. Her photographs have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery (as longlisted works in the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize exhibitions) and she is currently working on a series called “Tender are the Night Hawks”, focusing on night bus journeys across London, recently part of an exhibition in Leica’s Wetzlar headquarters. Sarah has been an official BAFTA photographer since 2015 and her commissions from BAFTA have allowed her extraordinary behind the scenes access to every facet of the awards. She is also an ambassador for Leica and a fellow of the British American Project.
Laura Barton is a writer and broadcaster. A Guardian feature writer and music columnist for a decade, she now writes for a range of newspapers, magazines and radio stations, covering everything from rock 'n' roll to Greyhound buses, tomboys, barbed wire, Shakespeare, Carson McCullers, and confidence. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4, where her Notes From a Musical Island will return for a third series this summer. Her first novel was awarded a Betty Trask prize, and she is currently at work on another book about music and sadness.
- 10th October 2018 Progress and a cover!
To our wonderful “West of West” supporters, Laura and I haven’t forgotten you. Our publication journey is proving to be more of a marathon than a sprint and we remain so grateful to all of you who have supported our book.
We’ve been busy over the summer months working closely with Unbound’s talented team of designers and are thrilled to announce that we now have a “West of West” cover that…16th April 2018 We're over the line!
The hugest thank you to all who have supported West of West. We’ve gone over our target and raised more than £25k. Now we can finalize design and layout and start the journey to the printers. Both Laura and I are delighted and extremely grateful. Thank you so much. I shan’t be tin rattling any more, but the book is still available to buy through the Unbound link and I’ll share publication details…4th April 2018 The final [ish] push!
Dear Friends and Supporters of West of West,
Firstly thank you so much for your support. As I type we have 268 backers who have been incredibly generous with thier pledges, it is hugely appreciated by us both and only a little more is needed before we can gett his book to the printers, and then out to all of you.
Today the Guardian were good enough to do a lovely mini feature/ photo essay…20th March 2018 Going West.
Dear Friends of West of West,
Thanks to your generosity and support we are over 4/5 of the way towards our [huge, Unbound certainly don't believe in skimping on qaulity] total. Another 19% and we can push the book towards the printer. One of the most important factors of this final push to get to our total is getting the project "out there". We are both wary of asking anything more of you since…13th February 2018 Glass HALF full..
I know I promised not to do too many inbox-blocking emails, BUT I couldn't let hitting the half way/ 50% point with our fundraising pass by unremarked upon. This is wonderful news for us and this book, and it's only possible becasue of the generosity and support of all who have pledged. We are both extremely grateful. And touched.
I hope it isn't too long till we hit the final target and can deliver…1st February 2018 Thank you for your West of West pledge!
Dear friends & supporters of "West of West",
While Laura and I don't want to fill your inbox with too regular updates, we did think that being live a week and having, with your support, reached 28% of our funding target was worthy of a direct thank you. We are both so grateful.
The coming weeks are crucial to making the book a reality. If you could take the time to let people know that you…
These people are helping to fund West of West.
Richard & Mimi BEAVEN