Photographer Ben Huff produces images that are genuine and honest, each one implores you to take a closer look and peel back the layers of emotion and symbolism. In his book The Last Road North, readers journey the Alaskan frontier through Ben's eyes. It's an authentic glimpse of the Dalton Highway- the northernmost road in America. We caught up with Ben to find out more about him- how he got started, life in Alaska, and what comes next.
Q. How did you begin your career as a photographer?
A. My career, in it's present form, really began when my wife and I moved to Fairbanks, Alaska in the summer of 2005. The landscape challenged me in a way I could have never predicted, and sent me down a road of a profound investigation of this crazy place.
Q. Has your style changed since the beginning of your career? If so, how?
A. I came to photography I bit late, and prior to moving to Alaska I was just beginning an editorial career in sports photography. Cycling was my first love, and something I devoted much of my early years to. But, again, my move to Alaska forced me to look more critically - to try to see beyond the tourist (which is how I felt) and find something more meaningful (to me). Moving to Fairbanks was like starting over, and I began making photos just for myself - an attempt to understand my new home. To be attuned to my curiosity. The Last Road North is a product of that curiosity.
Q. What photographer/artists influence you the most?
A. The list constantly changes and shifts, but Robert Adams has always kept my attention. As has Lee Friedlander, Alec Soth and more recently, Gerry Johansson, Adam Jeppesen and Ron Jude.
Q. Tell us about your time travelling the Dalton Highway.
A. The road seems so distant now, but the thing that sticks is how exciting each drive always was. I was full of anxiety and hope. The work was largely self funded, and so often I would coast back into town, running on fumes, praying to some god that there was some magic on those sheets of film - something to make it all worth it. But, the reality was that, pictures or not, being in that space was a gift.
Q. What do you hope readers will take away from The Last Road North?
A. If readers give the book some honest time, then I'm happy with whatever conclusions they might draw. I made the work over a five year span, and the book is only 56 pictures. It's a deliberate edit. I knew how I wanted the book to feel, and it has that feeling to me. How others might interpret it - I would never make it so specific to take that away.
Q. Can you share any special moments/memories behind the images in The Last Road North?
One of the most memorable moments of my time on the road, was of a time in which I didn't make a picture. I had been standing on the ice of the frozen Yukon River, making unsuccessful pictures at night in the winter. I had been out in the dark for maybe half an hour. I walked up the bank to my truck in the parking lot, switched on the lights, and there in the beams was a wolf. Calmly staring back at me. It was chilling. I had no idea she was there. She, undoubtedly, was watching me the entire time. I've never felt so alone and present in my life. There is a picture in the book, "Mile 115, headlights, winter, 2010" which is a sort of recreation of that moment for me. The picture means a lot to me, as it conjures up that memory, but I've left it open-ended for the viewer.
Q. What are some of your favorite photos from the published book?
A. "Mile 83, midnight light, driving south, 2012" is special, as it was made on my last drive on the road - about 1am in July. I knew then that it was my last trip, and that light was magic.
"Mile 250, crash board, Coldfoot, 2008" was important to the work because it focused on all of these great pictures that I didn't have to take. They were all made by truckers, who are for the most part absent from the work. The pictures gave them their own voice, and the sort of typology of crashed trucks is really beautiful.
"Mile 175, sign, Old Man Camp, 2008" - that frame within a frame - a not-quite postcard of the pipeline. The sign points to the feeling of the post-boom era, but stands kind of stoically in the landscape.
"Mile 285, Steven and Alice, 2011" - Alice, the only female in the book. Sometimes the stars align, and the green and black here - wilderness and oil. Perfect.
Q. What is your favorite thing about living in Alaska?
A. There are a hundred lifetimes of work to be made here. It's logistically and financially difficult to get to most places, but being here is slightly comforting to know that I might get some things done. I live with a constant anxiety that I'm not doing enough. If I lived on the outside, the daydreams would be unbearable.
Q. What are you working on next?
A. I'm working on a project here, in Juneau, that deals loosely with the past and present of this Gold Rush town. And, I'll be making my first trip to the Aleutians in July - an island I've been dreaming about for years.
Thank you Ben! Copies of The Last Road North will be available in May, make sure to stop by the shop and pick one up!