Holt Webb has committed himself to quite a project, one that'll take him on an exploratory journey across America's rural landscapes to discover and document the natural beauty he believes is losing a battle against urban sprawl and widening highways.
Armed with video and photographic equipment and accompanied by his two cats Reggie and Missy, Webb will be traveling in a huge motor home he lovingly calls BABS that's wrapped in a blown-up image of his photo of Okefenokee Swamp (which won CityBeat's 2005 photo contest). BABS runs on vegetable oil (in addition to bio-diesel and diesel) and comes equipped with solar panels to power all of his equipment. BABS will be towing Webb's 1994 Range Rover that's been converted to a vegetable-oil guzzler, too. The project is eco-friendly from top to bottom. Webb, a 38-year-old with California-surfer good looks and something of a cowboy fashion aesthetic, set off Jan. 16 on what he calls his “Vanishing America” project. He's keeping a journal of his travels via his blog, holtwebb.blogspot.com, and he's not quite sure when he'll return.
“At least three years,” he says, “but it could be as long as five.”
The idea for the project came to Holt years ago, first as one of those things that he just wanted to do—see the country, explore the land—but the project morphed into more of a personal mission to educate, enlighten and capture, combining his love for the outdoors and photography.
Webb has a degree in fine-art photography and made a name shooting architecture photos, but he walked away from his job to make Vanishing America happen.
Growing up in rural Georgia, Webb was drawn to the outdoors and art—drawing pictures for family and friends, then taking pictures when he got his first camera at age 10. Seeing the destruction of the forests he played in as a child, then moving to San Diego in 1999 and seeing the same things happening here, Webb found himself asking the very questions he was asking himself years ago—why is our land being bulldozed to make room for housing developments and golf courses? What's at stake?
Webb says he's not too particular about what he is going to document—pretty much anything he sees that he thinks might not be around in a decade.
“The goal of the project is to help bring about awareness of how precious, ephemeral and important these aspects of our country and our culture are,” he says.
Webb carefully planned out nearly every aspect of his trip, even down to the importance of sponsors and media coverage. Ultimately, he plans to turn the photographs into a collection of coffee-table books.
“The more publicity, the more people will want to see these places,” he says. “I don't want to become a celebrity, but if that helps with the project, it's all for that greater cause, I guess.”
At the least, he'll get to take BABS for a pretty memorable spin.