One of the great honors of my life is that I have been fortunate enough to have Sam Abell as a close friend and mentor. A veteran of 40 stunning years of making photographs, including for National Geographic, Sam recently published the first volume in The Sam Abell Library, a four volume set detailing his life’s work. After such an illustrious career, one would think little honors were left–but not so. Time magazine has just published a full feature on the first volume of the library, including 25 photographs from the first volume. You can see the feature here.
This photograph deserves much of the credit for the entire PlainSky, Nebraskans project. It is the image that most defines the project’s commentary on the present and future of the High Plains.
Shot in Dawes County in 2010, I had walked through more than a half mile of high plains grass along the rails as I searched for a possible combination of graffiti, the distant Pine Ridge, and a farm or ranch to sit in the window created by the rails and coal cars. I was searching for a statement about the impending encroachment of industrialization and urbanization on the culture and landscape of western Nebraska, and when I found this car, “change” emblazoned on its flanks, a distant windmill and tractor against the Pine Ridge, and blackbirds on the fence, I began to compose. And as I worked to create the shot, the blackbirds departed and completed the scene.
This eerie scene of a child’s grave in the Whitman cemetery in Hooker county has haunted me for some time in my photographic efforts. The young girl died in the first years of the twentieth century as her family struggled to establish a life in the rugged Sandhills, a life tied to the growing town of Whitman. Now, Whitman is nearly extinct, and the monument to the child has only the trio of nearby cedars for companionship on the High Plains.
I return to the one-day, one-image release of the complete “PlainSky, Nebraskans” show as it will debut at the West Nebraska Arts Center in Scottbluff, Nebraska, on March 1. The collection of 40 images, ranging from 10 1/2 inches by 15 1/2 inches at the smallest to 36 inches wide by 24 inches high at the largest, will be accompanied by the first signing of my book of the same name.
I’ve been asked by a number of people about how the images are made. The largest print is a custom-made print by Denver Digital Imaging on a Chromira LED photographic printer (yes, it’s a traditional photograph development method) on Fuji Crystal Archive Super Glossy paper. I’m going to start noting the paper types and printing methods each day as I post these, and more information about how it’s done can be found on my tech blog, Field & Studio in the coming weeks.
The other prints, all 24″ by 16″ or smaller, are made on my Epson Stylus Pro 3880 color inkjet (these prints are called giclées) using a variety of papers. Black and white images are printed on Red River Arctic Polar Luster paper; color prints are on a variety of papers, including Red River Arctic Polar Satin, Red River Polar Pearl Metallic 255 GSM, and Canson Infinity Arches Velin Museum Rag. It’s impressive how many pros have fallen for the giclée process, including Bill Frakes of Sports Illustrated, a bunch of the folks at Luminous Landscape, and Terry Cockerham in Dallas. Santa Fe Photographic Workshops is a staunch proponent of giclées as a central process in photographic creativity.
Sometimes making lemonade with lemons turns into chicken cordon bleu with a bottle of Dom Perignon and chocolate mousse for dessert. Coming home from a disappointing shoot in the Sandhills, the full moon rose, the fog emerged, and a cloudless sky above lent a blanket of stars as punctuation.
A central theme of the PlainSky series is details. The tiny pieces of our daily lives, the beauty in tiny places, that we miss as we bustle from point to point.
I don’t post reviews or commentary here on the photo blog; I save those for the blog on my Web site at http://blog.brettlerickson.com. That said, I have been documenting my new foray into giclée printing, and completed a review on black and white printing using two different types of Red River papers. Hit the link to read more.
As I continue publishing the finished pieces from the upcoming PlainSky, Nebraskans show opening on March 1, it’s important to note how long this series has taken to create: four years. Because if one takes time to look, there is beautiful symmetry in our daily lives, and in Nebraska, it is punctuated by our weather, sky, and long horizon.
Print No. 3: The exclamation point of life on the Great Plains, violent thunderstorms fascinate and often thrill Nebraskans, who by their birthright inherited spring hail, torrential rains, and destructive tornadoes.
Print No. 2: Ardmore, South Dakota. The looming specter of depopulation for neighboring Sioux County, Nebraska.