Month: April 2012

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Coyote and Wild West Show, Harrison

Coyote and Wild West Show, Harrison

Coyote and Wild West Show, Harrison

Buffalo Bill seems to be watching the clock in the Sioux County Museum. Does he get to go home?

I found the personality, light and wildness in this single collection a telling image for Harrison and Sioux County. Here, ironically, in a place of which Buffalo Bill presented only a caricature to the American people, is a poster idolizing his work. The coyote, so thoughtful in his expression, seems to keep watch over the residents of the museum as dust slowly encroaches on the sentinel’s charges.

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PlainSky, Nebraskans: Storm, Sioux County

Storm, Sioux County

Storm, Sioux County

Why sit out a severe storm with a history of tornadoes on a dirt road with no cell service? Because at 7 o’clock in the evening, with the storm on the northeast horizon and the sun to my side, the contrast of the white badlands, yellow prairie grass, and the black storm created textures worth taking such a chance.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Ode to a Hereford, Harrison

Ode to a Hereford, Harrison

Ode to a Hereford, Harrison

Above the entrance to the Sioux County Museum is a slab of red plywood, home to a poetic skull of a long-dead hereford. It reads (I didn’t write the poem, by the way-I’m a visual poet, but not one with a pen):

ODE TO A HEREFORD (Author Unknown)

Head held high
Stepping proud
He now walks the range
Of a snow white cloud

How could I not make a photo?

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Rea’s Grocery, Harrison

Rea's Grocery, Harrison

Rea's Grocery, Harrison

The man who owns Rea’s Grocery in Harrison is a former airline pilot, who found Harrison’s appeal irresistible. The store is tiny, rustic and indispensable. Visually, it’s magnetic, much as the owner found the town and Sioux County.

I’m inclined to agree.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Caking Cattle, Orella Road Pasture

Caking Cattle, Orella Road Pasture

Caking Cattle, Orella Road Pasture

Ray Semroska has been ranching this land for 82 years.

His house, home and ranch were named a Nebraska Heritage Homestead, an honor given to families that have lived on and worked with the same land for more than 100 years.

Ray’s garage is the same building as the one in which he attended grade school.

Needless to say, I’m in awe of Ray and his family. I’ll be going back several times this year to see him and his wife, Doreen. On a cold (very cold!) January day, I followed him as he caked (pellet-fed) the cattle on his enormous ranch in Sioux County; as he cleaned his dispenser in the back of his 30-year-old Ford 4×4, the cattle lined up perfectly for a split second, and I clicked the shutter.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Cowboy and Daughter, Chadron

Cowboy and Daughter, Chadron

Cowboy and Daughter, Chadron

I once heard National Geographic photographer Sam Abell say, during a presentation, that many people thought the way he created his stunning photographs was by booking a very comfortable hotel room, having a nice breakfast, and simply looking out the window one day to capture the photo. The audience laughed. I laughed. “Couldn’t ever happen that way,” I said to myself.

Then, in Chadron on March 21, it did.

Walking out of my hotel room at 12:30 p.m., I saw this cowboy and his daughter eating lunch in the courtyard, so very displaced from the stereotypical environment we expect to find such people. The arches, the sea of stucco, cement and sterility all struck me as a classic statement of “modern Nebraska history,” as a very good friend of mine called it. This scene was then complimented by the ready-made frame of the window, and my photo was prepared for me.

Right out my door after I had a nice lunch.

New Student Work: Chloe Ekberg

Omaha Fashion Week, by Chloe Ekberg Hastings College Junior Photojournalism Student

Omaha Fashion Week, by Chloe Ekberg
Hastings College Junior Photojournalism Student

Chloe Ekberg is one of the finest student photographers with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. Her talent is exceptional, as is her drive; in fact, the critical difference in this business of professional photography is just that, drive. There are many, many visually acute people, but few take the initiative to train–truly train. That process means high levels of constructive criticism, technical mastery, and repeated visual exercise.

Chloe does just that, and often just for fun. See her photos at her blog.

Her work from the Omaha Fashion Show is stunning at a level that spurred me to call a colleague of mine who works for one of Nebraska’s largest newspapers (Chloe already works for them as a freelancer), and encourage him to start passing her name around as much as possible. That’s not something I do very often; as my students will attest, as well as my colleagues in the business, I’m very hard to please photographically–especially by myself or my students. For example, I don’t allow my students to use any setting except manual. Why? I’m a student of Ansel Adams, who also felt that in order to be a virtuoso (either on the piano or camera), one had to be a technical master. Chloe is well on her way to this level of expertise.

Take a look. You’ll be impressed–especially since she’s not even a senior in college.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Bluff, Power and Blacktop, Dawes County

Bluff and Power Lines, Dawes County

Bluff and Power Lines, Dawes County

A central theme in my “PlainSky, Nebraskans” project is how power structures, like these power poles along Highway 2 in northern Dawes County, are so ubiquitous for Nebraskans that they simply fade from many residents’ visions. Yet, these constructions define in two ways how residents and visitors view the natural beauty of the state; first, the landscape is frequently framed by the poles and wires. Second, since the infinite lines of poles often follow highways, visitors and residents seldom see the Nebraska landscape as separate from these man-made monoliths.

Thus, I resolved to express the landscape of the wilds as not so…wild. Blacktop and power. This is where I differ in philosophy from one of my inspirations, Ansel Adams; I have chosen to exhibit not just a celebration of the emotion of the landscape, but humanity’s desecration of that same view.

As evidence of this philosophy, the effects of that blacktop state of mind in Nebraska often leads to travelers’ disregard for the natural world. Look closely in the image: a half-empty bottle of soda (pop, as Nebraskans call it), tossed from a moving vehicle, finally stopping to rest to the side of the view of the butte. I found it an essential part of the image.

But after I finished the image, I picked the bottle up, put it in the back of my pickup, took it to Chadron with me, dumped it out, and recycled the bottle.