Central Nebraska

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.

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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.

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—

 

 

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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Cowboy and Ferris Wheel, Elwood

Cowboy and Ferris Wheel, Elwood

Cowboy and Ferris Wheel, Elwood

I recently wrapped up another stint of teaching at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, somewhere I feel most honored to be an instructor. But that’s not the point of this post. Color is.

Someone I met this year in Santa Fe noted that while I’m known as a black-and-white artist, I haven’t worked solely in monochrome, and what’s more, some of my best—best!—images are in color. Ironic, no? Yet, I often feel like Eeyore when I make such images.

“I might have known,” said Eeyore. “After all, one can’t complain.”

So when I made the above image and chose to leave it in color (which may mean it never goes in my forthcoming book about rural rodeos), upon seeing it, another person made a related comment regarding palette. “Oooh, color! That’s not like you.”

Oh, bother.

Sammy Geisler, Bronc Rider

Sammy Geisler, Bronc Rider

Sammy Geisler, Bronc Rider

One of the best parts of my photographic life is the people I meet on the road at rodeos, county fairs, brandings, and elsewhere. Every story is interesting, for each life is different. But occasionally, one story stands out, a story that is vastly different than others. Sammy Geisler is just such a story, for in all my years shooting rodeos, I’ve never met anyone like her.

She’s a bronc rider. The only woman I’ve ever met who was.

In such a legacy sport nearly universally dominated by men, being a woman comes with an uphill battle for respect and recognition that’s tougher than the men have had to face. That means she’s tougher than nails, to say the least.

And I simply had to make a portrait of that brand of strength.

Elm Tree Mushroom, Hastings

Elm Tree Mushroom, Hastings

Elm Tree Mushroom, Hastings

The environment is changing: As witness, one only need look about. If that sounds familiar to the photographers among us, it should, since it is our daily ritual to soak in the aroma of the visions with which we are greeted. But when I saw this mushroom on a tree little more than a quarter mile from my front door, I halted. Here was evidence that all is not right. Why? Although it’s perhaps common to find mushrooms of all sorts in Nebraska and the Great Plains, this one is special: It’s larger than a human brain, and weighs in at more than three pounds, the product of an abnormally rainy and humid summer.

Boy in Inflatable House, Bartlett

Boy in Inflatable House, Bartlett

Boy in Inflatable House, Bartlett

I’ve always found textures a worthwhile and intoxicating tool for making photographs, as well as frames-within-frames, so when I found this inflatable house at the Wheeler County Fair and a boy playing inside, I stuck around for a bit–and was rewarded.

Bronc Rider, Greeley Rodeo

Bronc Rider, Greeley Rodeo

Bronc Rider, Greeley Rodeo

Many thanks to the Greeley Rodeo Committee for giving me carte blanche access to their rodeo this year–the shots were worth it and people were fantastic!

My Next Solo Show: Rural Impressions

Badge of Membership, Eddyville Rodeo

Badge of Membership, Eddyville Rodeo

My next solo show, Rural Impressions: Images of the American West, opens closer to home than usual, since it’s at the Graham Gallery in Hastings, Nebraska. It’s a collection of more than 40 images from different series of work over the last five years that examine the complex relationships between the rural West and the land itself. The reception is 6-9 p.m. on April 5, so if you feel like buying a plane ticket or hopping in the car, I’ll be happy to offer you a handshake, hors d’oeuvres, and a drink.

The show will include a number of my pieces from Rural Rodeos, such as the one above, a young man at the Eddyville Rodeo who already displayed the price of entry for the life of a cowhand.