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Capturing a country's legacy

Holt Webb uses his camera to document America's changing landscape

by DeShaun Harris (ABJ '08)

“And as the folks who remember ‘how it used to be’ grow older and die off, the history of this area will die off with them...Another 20 years or so, and it will be just another patch of grass. No one to remember (an old headstone in a cemetery), and nobody to care. Just like the tangible history of the Deep South.”—Holt Webb’s blog, Feb. 18

Photographer Holt Webb (BFA ’92) is on a two-year quest to capture the disappearing sights of Americana and natural treasures. He began his trip in August at the Salton Sea in the Southern California desert, moved to the receding glaciers of Alaska, headed back to the West to follow a herd of wild mustangs and then travelled into the South’s wetlands. The last legs will be in the Northeast and Midwest.

In January, he made a pit stop in Athens to talk about his adventure with President Michael F. Adams and to show off his eco-friendly ride—a 32-foot recreational vehicle powered by vegetable oil and solar energy. All talk and no action he is not. The latest advances in biofuel alternatives are on the tip of his tongue.

“I’ve always been concerned about the environment and where we’re headed in taking care of it—or not taking care of it,” Webb says.

His mother, Carol, who drove over from Alpharetta to join him on campus, agrees. She carries copies of all her son’s published articles and media coverage. Cat Fancy and RV Times are among the magazines he is writing for as he travels the country with his cats Reggie and Missy. The cats and the latest RV technology (XM radio and satellite TV) keep him company on the road.

The custom RV, its sides covered with his photograph of the Okefenokee Swamp, has separate tanks for diesel fuel and vegetable oil. He gets five to 10 miles a gallon riding on cooking oil, which he gets from restaurants along his path.

“After a strange look or two, most of them are happy to have someone take (the oil) off their hands so they won’t have to pay to get it taken away,” Webb says. “But pretty soon, more people will be asking for it (as alternative fuels become more popular) and restaurants will charge for it.”

Webb plans to compile his pictures into a coffee table book and his video into a documentary. His favorite site so far has been the airplane graveyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz.

“All the planes (are) lined up, caked with mud, and you (can) feel the ghosts coming off of them,” he says.

His ultimate goal for the project is to raise awareness of how people are affecting the natural beauty of this country and to preserve the images of that landscape as much as possible.

“Capturing it all is the most important thing, because it’s going to disappear in the next two to three generations and then what will we have?” he says. “Just memories and stories.”

Get More
For more information on Webb and the project, go to

(photo above) One of the scenes Webb captured on film is this one from the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, Calif. Photo by Holt Webb.

(top photo) Holt Webb drove his custom RV onto campus in January to talk to President Adams about his adventures. Photo by Paul Efland.

DeShaun Harris graduated in May from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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