on the road with antoine d’agata….


Most of you seem to like the conversations I have with editors, curators, and photographers. Bill Hunt was our last conversation still up and Jim Estrin from the New York Times Lens Blog will be next. Following will be Susan Meiselas as curator/photographer and champion of the Magnum Foundation supporting photographers with serious projects no matter how affiliated. There will be surprise conversations along the way. As now.

Now I am literally on the road with Antoine D’Agata with whom, in the moment above depicted, am sharing both beer and vodka in our Motel 6 in Bismarck , North Dakota. We are part of Magnum’s Looking For America project. To be a major exhibition and book. Some of our colleagues at this very moment are in Rochester , New York doing Postcards From America which is a project within the larger America project. postcardsfromamerica.tumblr.com Yes, I am confused too. But no worries. Trust me, it will all come down in a good way and with our best work all coming together in print and on the wall.

So Antoine and I are headed for a story called (by me) BIG MEN LOOK FOR BIG OIL….In about an hour we will get into our lumbering camper van and head for a town with a lot of rich people who have no place to live. Hence the camper. Williston , N Dakota struck oil. The wild wild west. A bunch of men making a lot of money and sleeping in their cars. Williston was not ready for this boom boom boom.

My story will be sort of an interview with Antoine , who flew from Paris yesterday, and my own pictures from Williston. Or not. We joked last night , towards the end of a bottle of Grey Goose , how funny it would be if we never got out of this Motel 6. Did the story , a story, of a motel on the highway. However, I think we will move on. Curiosity.

Panos Skoulidas, from Burn comment section fame, and who started with Alec Soth and Jim Goldberg and Susan Meiselas on the original Postcards project which started in San Antonio is driving the van, helping me with computer stuff, and shooting video and doing his own record making.

The whole thing is crazy of course. In seven days I have to be in Australia for my Rio opening. Nobody in their right mind would be doing THIS now. Yes, exactly.

Well, come along with us. I will post some stuff here. Panos will too.
Check out the Magnum Tumblr (http://lookingforamerica2012.tumblr.com) for more and well one way or another we will bring you a story. Not sure what story but a story for sure.

Ask Antoine a question. Or any of us. If we do not answer right away, it will be an internet issue. Ok road trip about to happen. In pursuit of THE TRUTH.

Alec Soth may have said it best in an email to me. “North Dakota might not be ready for Antoine and you”.

Stay tuned.

170 Responses to “on the road with antoine d’agata….”

  • my own take on this…..

    in general, i’m in total agreement with John about the Magnum forays into the ‘heart of america’…seems more like a stunt that the pursuit of a real vision (and I say this with deep love and respect for David, Alec, Jim, Susan, Michal, Antoine and Panos)…more about Magnum than either america or photography or the photographers vision/work themselves…but that IS the game at the moment, and for that I totally get it (marketing of self, reinvention of book forms, which i liked)…and what is fun to me (about this) is that at least THESE guys have the time and $$ and power behind them to not only road0-trip it, but to have a googleplex of eyes thirsting for what they bring back (though, honestly i’m not really interested in those images…little of the writing from postcards from america or the imagery measured about to more solitary work, like Richard’s Blue Room, for example)….BUT….the i do see this as part of David’s vision (he’s a surfer from young age)…but for me the more interesting choice is antoine…

    and above all, it fits (to me) pretty neatly into the arc of his life and what he has done….from the confines of a room in Cambodia with one woman to the open sky and nearly rejection of what his early work defined…and in this, for me, he is much closer to the heart of what i understand to be picture swinging….

    so, for antoine:

    Votre vie photographique me semble, plus que tout autre photographe Je sais, pour ressembler à la vie de Rimbaud. Les deux c’est de la poésie, le développement de cette poésie, puis le rejet de cette vie. Photo de David d’entre vous dans cette salle (après la vodka?) Me rappelle d’une photo perdue de Rimbaud en Afrique après avoir quitté le monde qui l’avait si bien célébré. Donc ma question: comment peut-on se réconcilier avec toute l’adoration des conneries tout en quêtes. En d’autres termes, posé des questions par des étrangers plutôt à travers l’Internet plutôt que de regarder la lumière du soleil verser sur soi et les autres. Faisons un livre sur la cécité jour aussi, et le rejet de toutes ces autres choses.

    En ce qui concerne et les câlins,


  • So, what have you named the van you guys are in?

  • What’s to criticize about going out and trying to make great photographs? Nothing, far as I can see. Go for it.

  • I’m with MW on this one. I think anyplace a photographer can go, however a photographer gets there – that’s the place to take pictures. If it’s in the United States, be it North Dakota, Kaktovik, Desmoine, Provo or New Haven, then it is in the heart of America. And if someone comes up with device to get them there and draw attention to it that on the surface sounds a little gimmicky, then so be it. In the end, the only thing that matters is that they got there and they took the photographs. Maybe the bulk of the images will not seem to break new ground; maybe to some the images will seem mediocre. Yet, when it is all done, I’ll bet that here and there will be some remarkable images that will make the journey seem worthwhile.

  • Hey David,

    When thinking about how you and D’Agata might approach this subject matter, i seem to be able to see more of what you might be looking for to make pictures, while i am wondering what Antoine will do in this environment to make his kinds of images. David – you seem to be able to make pictures anywhere you happen to be in your very personal kind of way. No matter if you’re in Cuba or Carolina, on the street, in someones home…wherever. The video of you shooting that family next to their house in the field (great, btw) seems like ideal DAH subject matter., but i couldn’t envision D’Agata shooting that content. I could totally see you working the bar near the pool table, but cant picture him.

    Judging by Antoine’s past work (Insomnia, Agonie…) it seems he requires a much more ‘private’ experience to make his kinds of pictures. Undoubtedly, his un-peopled photographs and self-portraits are beautiful, but the bulk of a D’Agata ‘story’ is usually comprised of those very private, sexual and ultra-personal encounters…nudes etc…

    My question to Mr. D’agata is what is it exactly that you are looking for to make one of your pictures in this type of environment and how do you approach your subject matter? Of course, i have no idea what is going on in each of your minds or what you intend to capture, so i am only keying off past work that i have seen.



  • I think both the postcards from and the looking for america projects are the best ideas, Magnum had for a long time. It shows the real life, it creates a publicity and it is core Magnum.
    Even if the pictures look trivial today, they gain worth as documents of the time within the next years…

    Both projects also motivate and inspire.

    My questions to Antoine D’Agata:
    – You are known for long-term projects with your deep integration with the subject. What are the biggest challenges for you with this project? And how to you handle them?
    – The time you have for this project is very short. Which areas would you like to dig deeper, if you could extend the time to stay?

  • It all smacks of a great racehorse on it’s last run. There will be a huge “old” audience at the track the new are there but on their minds elsewhere and probably didn’t bet on the race. Magnum should finish what it started as best it can, reinvention rarely works and even rarer as long term success.
    As for the images it is a bit like a workshop, limited time, an almost forced intent of success once you are there …….. the results are about learning and growing, not sure if magnum can afford the same.

    The photographers will walk away with something.

  • EVA

    this is under my name, but i will quote Antoine..you all pretty much know what i will say, so let’s hear from him…he just not use this format…cool?

    “I am never on assignment from anyone…Nor is anyone from Magnum on this..Most of us are always on self assigned projects..Magnum is us, there is no THEY..There is nobody to satisfy..Nothing is happening of interest for me here in Williston..I have no responsibility to anyone” Antoine D’Agata

    this would be my point of view as well…however i am find some interesting things here…just cannot do too much in four days of shooting…still it’s been great being with Antoine and Panos..we have gotten along famously…a real bonding..Antoine is one of my favorite photographers…i am in his fan club…i feel bad he could not find his subject here…we were shut down immediately on the prostitute scene which is what he wanted to do, as you may imagine…he does shoot digital, but has made very few pictures.. dah


    i will (david) answer this….we never intended to shoot exactly the same story…and again, no expectations from anyone that we would pursue exactly the same story anyway…big oil wild west town could mean many things…Antoine was thinking this was a seamy scene that it really is not…i really did not know what to expect…i was disappointed that this “wild west” bit that we had read so much about really is not anything to see…not visually impactful..”get there and see what happens” is pretty much it..i will probably not use much if anything from this myself…knowing what i know now, i would not consider this a good story…but i worked anyway…no problem..i enjoy meeting and getting to know all kinds of people, so i can manage….


    (from dah)we showed up hoping for the Gods of serendipity….honestly we had some research done, but i have always found that “research” happens on the ground when you are there…so we had basic info, but really had no idea of access…most of us hear “no you cannot do this” all the time, then we work our way in anyway…but no way to get the strip clubs…some negative press preceded us here, so all press is viewed suspiciously..so this time, no was really no….


    “man camps” sound dramatic, but neither of us saw any interest at all in them when we saw what they actually were…a “man camp” in India would probably be pretty dynamic…here a man camp is a guy in his private room….neither of us shot a frame of this…maybe if man camps was the only subject, something could come from it, but didn’t worth the effort to either of us…

    CARLO (second question)

    Antione says “I never heard of Instagram. I do not have any smart phone.


    there are no lines… (answer from both of us)


    (from David) Antoine is not happy…at least not happy with anything here…he is depressed…at least with the subject…the two of us are very much enjoying each others company however…and we go out together 16 hours every day…he is trying, he just doesn’t see anything..Antoine has not mentioned French elections….and has never talked about politics at all…that is not his thing imo…


    yours is a very good question John….and for sure nobody is pissed off at your question..at least none of the three of us….

    first off i really do not like ensemble projects…with photographers, musicians, none of it..ok so i liked The Traveling Wilburys…i did choose Antoine as my band mate here because we like each other…just like i wanted you to come to Rio with me….we are so so different stylistically, but are brothers in arms pretty deep..this may surprise you because of the apparent disparity in style but it is true….Panos, Antoine and i have had nothing but fun with each other…and knowing what we know now we would not have flown thousands of miles to be here…Antoine is flat out depressed and i would not have done this squeezing my time up against needing to be in Australia in three days…nightmare…so we have camaraderie but not much picture wise..i can sort of make the best of things generally and so can Panos, but Antoine needs certain subject matter for his art….hell dude, as you know I can enjoy taking a picture of you at breakfast!!

    listen i publish Burn so that all of you know that i am average….Magnum published the Contact Sheet book to show that we are all average, that most of what we shoot is throwaway stuff….with only an occasional pearl…i cannot speak for the others, but i know damn well i do not take good pictures, much less great pictures everyday..only SOMETIMES…it is a struggle , particularly for location photographers i think…still “sometimes” happens…we live for “sometimes”

    i am not being paid a dime on this project, nor are any of us…Magnum gave us our expenses only…Magnum has been near bankruptcy at least three times since i have been a member…none of us work for money, we work for ourselves… we do have a staff who tries to sell our work but i don’t know anyone rich at Magnum except maybe Elliott or Martin…

    here is something you may suspect..but again, i am only speaking for myself, but in these blog diaries, i rarely show my very best pictures on these things…when you see my Rio work, you will quickly realize i never posted even on my paywall my most provocative work…hey, i wanna surprise you in the book!! i never show all here…

    lastly, this is about PROCESS, not PORTFOLIO…we look at these as educational…so that folks out there will realize we are “average”…yet in two years when Looking For America is published, you will find something in there interesting…or not…if you don’t like it, don’t buy it…but yes we will try to sell it if we can…watch a movie being made is not like watching a movie…same kinda thing…and sure , we have made some bad movies….i know YOU get this…

    hey we are gonna lose the net…must stop…i hope i have somewhat at least answered your question..back soonest…we are patched in on the iPhone and running out of credit…

    cheers, david

  • Gone are the days of parenting information…it is here is a device find your own way as opposed of information to here is a book

  • Gone are the days of parenting information……… it is here is a device find your own “way” ……….as opposed to the old days of here is a book of information

  • BOB

    hey amigo, sure there is some hype….my answer to you i already gave to John..i did not see your question when i answered his…again, i would think twice before ever again getting into a group project…group anything is never as good as a singular effort…but you know we do these things i think because we spend so much time alone…hell we just want to hang out with our own brothers and sisters…so we do it…and some of our audience really enjoys them..but nobody ever has a group book at the top of their book list…


    from Antoine “first, i cannot find anything here…nothing….being with David and Panos has been bonding, great..”

  • As someone who is generally supportive of the project and am loathe to make any judgements based on woefully incomplete information, just going by what you all have said publicly, it sounds like you may have fallen into the trap of preconceived notions. My suspicion is that the modern day North Dakota versions of bars and prostitutes is most likely something along the lines of megachurches and meth labs (and prescription pain pills). Ignoring those giant fucking mastadons in the room probably won’t get you much.

  • David – I noticed that things seemed to be bad right from the start. How long does it have to be bad to scrap the idea? I mean, does Magnum ever have a situation where photographers have invested too much money and time and the results just are not there and decide to pull the plug? I’m thinking back to when W. Eugene Smith nearly bankrupted the organization with his Pittsburgh project… Would they allow that today?

    Also maybe this is a good question for Antoine – how do you get into the mood to shoot again? I know of many people who will get into a kind of funk and not have any will to shoot after being in a situation where they were expecting to find work only to end up in a dull situation.

    Travel safe you guys. Panos, don’t let DAH be late to his opening! is Antoine going too or back to France?

  • EDIT- Not to say W. Eugene Smith did not have results – he had maybe too many, and so kept at it…

  • Perhaps,Antoine can create some of his signature content with DAH and Panos. :))
    -Motel 8, the “Man Van”,lonely roads,alcohol. Can’t miss. :)

  • Antoine, David..

    Thanks for the answers..

    Looking at your pictures on tumblr (David’s), I can’t help thinking this would be great for your American Family project.. more than force a Boomtown project in such short time.. I don’t say you force, but I think that there definitely are photographs out there, just, as you say, not the story you went there for..

    Also for Antoine.. just with a whole lot more time..

    (Hong Kong airport WiFi refused to post this the first time around.. uhmmm… and not pictures loading to Instagram either.. )

  • Mtomalty – That could give a new meaning to “Big Men look for Big Oil”… so not right…

    I’m sitting NEXT TO ANTOINE D’AGATA and DAH as we speak ..
    This text below is what ANTOINE HIMSELF typed on my phone:

    “Had a glimpsing into the American dream the last five days. And couldn’t t really find my way out of that nightmare. Another boomtown biz was as usual. Up the ass of the poor. Down the pocket of the rich. Liked the people here. But they are a swimming in me old muddy waters. Need to come back soon to understand better. And feel more. And find the right meth spot. Thanks for your concern. Best. A. ”
    -Antoine D’Agata-

  • I get the impression there are too many men up in N Dakota. Where are the women?

  • Paul. Im guessing you rent them by the hour.

  • John Gladdy…

    Laughing!! I suppose the Magnum’s accountant will not accept this as expenses.

  • “These young Native Americans are being evicted from their land in N Dakota right in the middle of an oil boom all around them. Their traditional grasslands turned into oil lands.”

    My question to you US citizens is: how can that happen, again, today?
    I confess, I do not know much about US home affairs, but this really still happens in 2012?

  • Eva…

    As far as I know anyone, anywhere can be evicted from their homes if local governments believe there’s good enough reason. A local friend of mine lost a lovely piece of land he inherited from his grandparents so the local council could add two new lanes to the motorway. Very unfair especially as he got paid next to nothing for it.

  • Paul..

    I find very interesting the comparison of the captions on David’s photos on tumblr, owner of land getting rich vs. the above.. As said I don’t know much about this at all, it sure would be an interesting story to explore.. at least in text, visually I don’t know if feasible..

    I just wonder if there have been overall evictions, or limited to Native Americans in this specific case..

  • EVA,

    “I just wonder if there have been overall evictions, or limited to Native Americans in this specific case..”

    this wonders me, too.
    Here in the Rhine Area, it happens from time to time that complete villages are evicted and newly build somewhere else for brown coal. (Lookup Gartzweiler 2), it may also be, that 20, 30 years later the new village is demolished and the people moved further. However, this is not limited to a specific ethnic group.

  • DAH, Panos, Antoine – How do you guys find the right subjects in this situation – It seems like you’ve rolled into town without setting up a list of contacts – are you meeting them as you go? do you just roll up to a house and knock on the door or meet them at the bar? Whats your approach?

  • a civilian-mass audience

    Can I sing now?


    I had to change my website address.
    I updated it in the wordpress section of this site, but it is not pointing to the right place.
    Is this a time issue ?(ie 24 hours to kick in) or have I cocked up somehow?
    Proper address is

    but this site keeps pointing at

    Thank you please.

  • Jason..
    MAGNUM OFFICE had us already set up with a list of contacts but a list never guarantees anything..
    A list is a list and good luck with it..
    No no.. Searching, digging, talking to strangers, knocking on doors in Indian reservations in middle of the night etc…
    I’ll go deeper in this questions soon..

  • Panos – Stop texting and driving man! Thank you for the confirmation. I can wait for more details.

  • John , nope! No fixer no contacts.. We found the fixers/contacts there.. More later..
    Love to All

  • Please, more information on this one:

    “These young Native Americans are being evicted from their land in N Dakota right in the middle of an oil boom all around them. Their traditional grasslands turned into oil lands.”

    Is this happening in “Indian Country” – tribal lands? Native allotments inside reservation boundaries? Off-reservation private lands? Who is evicting them? By what legal stricture?

  • Bill great great question..
    I think I need to let DAH elaborate on this one..
    I’m not sure if at this point (at least) I ( personally speaking ) should
    point fingers or name publicly the “bad guys”..
    Although its easy to google who is the “owner(s)” of oil companies that creating all that.
    ( in some cases , even corruption inside the tribes- some get paid ( the higher up in ladder ) and some get a check of only $15 , yes u heard well, only $15 as a “gift” along with their eviction papers..
    In some cases many families have to “evacuate” as fast as 30 days etc…
    The more I was digging info the more I was getting depressed..
    ( I have up to 2 hours audio – Indian families interviews and I also wanna do a slide show so you hear THEIR VOICE.. Not just my opinions-judgements ..
    More info soon but I have to be very careful revealing “names” at this point..
    Thank you ALL..
    Driving …

  • John Gladdy…

    Love the new work on your site, I’ll be on the lookout for your Cuba work once you upload it.

  • 2 hours… thats good. I think this is a story just being pried open! Congrats on the groundbreaking work guys!

  • @ DAH,
    Thanks a lot for the answer even thought there is a lack of internet hot spots in ND. I appreciate very much your time, as well as Panos’ one and Antoine.

    When you say “depressed” is because Antoine did not find interesting shooting there, nothing “hardcore” happens for him in North Dakota? or is because he is in a bad mood in his personal life?
    Knowing Marseille street life (his town), Williston life is at the opposite… and it’s hard for him.

    A la prochaine

  • @ ALL:
    The best fixer are the locals.
    THEY got the info!
    In counterpart you MUST give them small print pictures. So the best way to be friend with them is to carry a small ink jet printer in the camper with some photographic paper and voilà!
    Sometimes a bottle of wine also helps…


  • The mineral boom/coal seam gas exploration etc here in Australia is really tearing our rural communities apart here in Australia

  • DAH, Antoine, Panos,

    thank you very much for your answers.

    Would you do such a trip again, if you had more time, another destination, what other reasons?

    Yes, that’s the plan..

    EXACTLY.. U nailed it!

    Thank you for your answer! U nailed it! Yes , the LOCALS, the INSIDERS…
    give them their photos.. And yes WINE has its own magic when we “enter” someone’s house..
    Sorry I meant to say “soul”…

  • http://instagr.am/p/KB0KqQhrVF/

    This is a photo I shot of DAH “asking/gaining access”..
    It was raining hard.. DAH did not care.. I had to stay inside the RV because I could get shot.. The house DAH was approaching was in between two meth distribution centers..
    ( not that we were aware off )
    Photo shot with Instagram .. No photoshop.. What’s u see as distorted is just the rain from RV window..
    Love u all..
    Ok back to work..
    Tons of stuff to download etc.. Blah blah..
    Stay tuned

    You are good now – the page is cached and it takes a bit to update the old to new.

  • “The mineral boom/coal seam gas exploration etc here in Australia is really tearing our rural communities apart here in Australia”

    I didn’t know that, I’ve always had I suppose this silly romantic idea that Australia was “different” more caring ecologically and closer knit community which managed to learn from the errors of other countries…

  • federico agostini

    Great shot, Panos!

  • Paul our parliament proclaims new paths for as if they are fresh out of Brussels and stripping it bare is the name of the game………..

  • http://www.eastmanhouse.org/events/detail/magnum-04-28-12

    About Rochester: The panelists (Parr was absent, back in England) pretty much discussed the problems they had gaining access, and overturning their personal preconceptions about the city. There was plenty of success; there was a feeling that creativity flowed symbiotically among the photographers all-but-freely. Still, the task for each to produce 100 images for the project was a bit too much, onerous, and some had to revert to old tricks of the trade to fill the quota. In short, there were some creative difficulties and failures, partially mirroring the disheartening experience of David, Antoine and Panos.

    On my drive home however, it was something else that happened that day that so preoccupied me. I met with Maestro right after the discussion, and he virtually kidnapped me for 6 hours. There was a book-signing at the Eastman House, and Bruce invited me to sit beside him at his table. Plenty of people, wanting to talk, to have books and such autographed. It was plenty of fun, exhilarating, and I didn’t mind one bit playing straight man to his caustic wit.

    However, at one point a young woman of 20 slowly approached, and blurted out to Bruce that she was sorry that she was too poor to buy a book, but that she wanted to meet him regardless. Quickly it became apparent to us that she suffered from a marginal personality disorder; Bruce softened a little, took his time with her, and allowed her to open herself up to us. Turns out she suffers from agoraphobia, and is paranoid about the outside world. She would always look to the left, and had done so so much through her life that some sort of rictus had developed in her face. She spent some time at the table, told us of her dream to move to Alaska, of her love for photography. OK?

    In retrospect, it was an amazing moment. Here was a woman, weak, timid and bashful, who undoubtedly had made a big effort, maybe some sort of sacrifice, to get out of her house and travel through Rochester to meet with a photographer who, in my eyes, is the world’s most fearless and boldest street photographer. I understand now her attraction to his work, of how so polarizingly opposite he and she are to one another, that she was compelled to meet with him. Some sort of therapy perhaps? I think so. Never had I considered photography as treatment for some type of illness. Certainly there is the salve of creative doing, but the effect I always looked at internally.

    It was a tremendous moment for me to witness, literally at the elbow of Maestro, this power of art. I had many reasons for attending this day at Rochester, all of which had met and exceeded my expectations, but this experience was the best. The connections of creativity.

    Just wanted to share.

Leave a Reply

You must login to post a comment.