Author: Brett L. Erickson

About Brett L. Erickson

Brett L. Erickson is an interpretive documentary photographer specializing in making images of the Great Plains and American West, and his award-winning photographs have been featured in numerous solo and group shows throughout the United States. A collaboration with National Geographic photographer Sam Abell, Brett's most recent project and its accompanying book, "PlainSky, Nebraskans," focused on the interrelationship between the people, landscapes and structures of western Nebraska. Brett has taught photography, photojournalism, online design and mass media at Hastings College since 2003. As a professional journalist and photographer, he contributed for a large variety of media, including Oregon and Nebraska newspapers, National Public Radio, American Public Media, and Nebraska Educational Telecommunications. He formerly served as the freelance Central Nebraska Bureau Chief for NET Radio (Nebraska Public Radio). Erickson earned his Bachelor of Arts in Communication Arts from Hastings College in 1995, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Hastings College in 1999, and a Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, one of the nation’s top 12 journalism master’s programs, in 2009. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The Bones of Winter

The Bones of Winter (Sketch)

The Bones of Winter (Sketch)

I’ve begun a new project called “The Bones of Winter,” and sketches are important to the final product in any endeavor. The above is one such draft, and all are focused on a poem of Dickinson:

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

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Water Grass, Colorado

Water Grass, Colorado

Water Grass, Colorado

While I was in New Mexico this summer teaching at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, I took a pilgrimage to the Andrew Smith Gallery, which deals solely in photography by the likes of the Westons, Ansel Adams, Edward Curtis and Lee Friedlander. Paul Caponigro is also there, and while he is most certainly not afforded the fame given to Ansel Adams, he would be very deserving of such. An original Caponigro has deep, midnight blacks punctuated by staccato bursts of near-white that leave the viewer unsettled and contemplative, yet placated by the natural beauty so overlooked within daily life. They are poems of sublime quietness.

So after I had left the landscape of mystery behind, moving north to Colorado, I found in my travels a small lake in the wilds of the Sawatch range that moved me much like a Caponigro.

Junk Jaunt Shopping, Custer County

Junk Jaunters, Custer County

Junk Jaunters, Custer County

Oh, what fun. Lured by the romance of finding hidden treasure, knickknack and antique hunters rummage a county fair building packed with items during the annual Nebraska “Junk Jaunt.” The 200-mile, 500-plus vendor trail includes more than 20 towns, whose residents will see visitors from half the states in the US.

I was lucky enough to travel two days of the Jaunt this year with some of my best students, and in Broken Bow, we found our own treasures…photographs.

Chairs, Ansley

Chairs, Ansley

Chairs, Ansley

I traveled the Junk Jaunt trail this last weekend, following locations that sold everything from antiques to—no kidding—secondhand underwear. Yuck.

Luckily, I was only interested in photographs, and at a warehouse in Ansley, Nebraska, my students and I found a back room populated with chairs. The owner, Jim, is a retired illustrator with a penchant for three-dimensional storage art, it would seem.

I think he certainly had an eye for creating photo opportunities.

Breakaway Roper, Arthur Rodeo

Breakaway Roper

Breakaway Roper

I learned long ago the Great Plains is populated by closet feminists, for here women are just as capable (and welcome) riders and ropers as men. Just watch a few breakaway calf roping performances, and you’ll understand that in the wide spaces before the Rocky Mountains, women need not pull any punches. Tough as nails and happy to prove it.

Bravo.

Girl and Mural

Girl and Mural

Girl and Mural

On seeing the mural, the girl’s coat integral in the dance, I couldn’t help but hear Emily Dickinson, and make pictures.

I cannot dance upon my Toes—
No Man instructed me—
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,

That had I Ballet knowledge—
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe—
Or lay a Prima, mad,

And though I had no Gown of Gauze—
No Ringlet, to my Hair,
Nor hopped to Audiences—like Birds,
One Claw upon the Air,

Nor tossed my shape in Eider Balls,
Nor rolled on wheels of snow
Till I was out of sight, in sound,
The House encore me so—

Nor any know I know the Art
I mention—easy—Here—
Nor any Placard boast me—
It’s full as Opera—

 

 

Moth and Window, Northern New Mexico

 

Moth and Window

Moth and Window

Some people shoot pretty things like landscapes; I find Sylvia Plath and Ezra Pound in the nooks and crannies of the places I visit. And here was just such a poem, a Plath tucked away in the forgotten recesses of the desert air. Steiglitz called his small images “Equivalents,” for they were the visual equal of his emotional response to a scene. Indeed such a thing happened here for me, but as Andrew Southam has said of me, I live in a poet’s body.

Master Storytelling: Icebound, by Richard and Christine Olsenius

Geoff Pope; Photo by Richard Olsenius

Geoff Pope; Photo by Richard Olsenius

I’m fortunate to call Richard Olsenius a dear friend, for he is both a wonderful human being, and one of the most profoundly talented and accomplished storytellers in America. A former World Press Photo winner, National Geographic photographer and editor, filmmaker, composer and musician, he sees, hears and feels the world with open and empathetic eyes and ears. He is a minstrel of both image, word and note, producing myriad visions, endless poems and countless scores, but even the most accomplished essayist has an epic.

The tale of the Sheila Yeates is Richard’s, and it is riveting.

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Mud-Painted Car (For Sam Abell)

For Sam Abell

For Sam Abell

In his first Geographic story, Sam Abell made a photograph of his mud-splattered car as a response to the inspiration of Christopher Pratt, one of Canada’s most important modern artists. In the same spirit, while in the rain-soaked, mud-sodden region of eastern Wyoming in 2015, resulting in much the same pattern on my car, I made a photo as a tribute to Sam Abell’s importance to modern photography.

 

Bouncy House, Elwood

Bouncy House, Elwood

Bouncy House, Elwood

Ah, the unexpected. Photographically, it’s de rigueur at the small rodeos of the West, whether it be those in the crowd, the cowboys, the cowgirls or the children. Honestly, while this project is about much more for me than novelty, it’s what often keeps me coming back to each and every backwater event I can find. This image is case-in-point.

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