R. A. Hansen – dreaming backwards

Review by Douglas Stockdale •

R. A. Hansen’s photobook, dreaming backwards, is a nostalgic and poetic retrospective of an early body of work set in the rural landscape of middle America, the grand expanses where he was raised in Iowa. Hansen’s photographs are combined with his poems and personal reflections on these poignant early moments of his photographic development.

The subject of this book is a specific abandoned farmstead that he was familiar with in conjunction with his model, his younger cousin. His young subject’s inquisitive appearance is modeled after Hansen’s own curiosity at a similar age intrigued by these numerous decaying and abandoned farm structures found in this expansive rural landscape.

Hansen predominately utilizes a documentary black and white photographic style to investigate the various components of this farmland; out buildings, abandoned farm implements and tools, a forgotten basketball hoop, farmhouse interiors and various found objects left behind. His formal compositions have sufficient detail while appearing as very static documents of a melancholic space. The use of graphic black and white photography, the color having ‘faded away’, is representational of the earlier moments during the founding of this farm and its surrounding landscape, which only it’s shell and strange remnants still remain.

An aspect that I find really fascinating about this body of work is it includes a series of serendipitous moments, termed The Lost Emulsion Series, an unplanned event when Hansen inadvertently reused an already exposed roll of 35mm photographic film. If one did not fully wind off a roll of film at the end of use and left a short length the leader exposed, it could be easily confused for a roll of yet-to-be exposed film. 

This is the type of creative magic that can occur when retrospectively examining an earlier body of work. Perhaps at the time this event was thought to be a tragic accident, now yielding complex and extremely interesting compositions that appear very contemporary; a mashup of forms, shapes and masses with odd juxtapositions.

It is ambiguous as to who lived at this location before, when the structures were built, when and why those who had worked this land decided to permanently move on and never return. Hansen provides hints that many of these abandoned farms were seriously impacted by the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Perhaps someone could grow a crop, but no one that could purchase these agricultural goods, thus no ability to re-invest into the seed necessary for following years planting. A hard life; no money, no seed, no crop, and thus not a viable farm. Try something else somewhere else. What remains can only hint at the ghostly memories and the unfulfilled dreams of those who left.

This is a slim book, composed of 64 pages, printed in a small edition in an 8 x 8” hardcover with a smaller size 6 x 6” stiff cover edition.

Dreaming backwards is a poetic term for memories, those events that are recalled during the slumber of dreams. A past memory about a place of past memories.


Robert Hansen was previously featured on PhotoBook Journal: Yucatan Passages


Douglas Stockdale is a visual artist and Senior Editor & founder PhotoBook Journal


dreaming backwards 1974 – 2020, R. A. Hansen

Photographer & poet; R. A. Hansen, born Des Moines, Iowa and resides in Laguna Niguel, CA

Self-published: The Center Gallery Editions, copyright 2021

Editing and essay: Marrie K. Stone

Text: English

Hard covers, edition of 35 (8 x 8” edition reviewed for this article, also in softcover 6 x 6”), printed by Creative Press, Anaheim, California.

Photobook Designer: R. A. Hansen


Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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