My Work Elsewhere

“10 Things I Learned from the PlainSky, Nebraskans” in the Fall 2016 Tri-State Cattle Journal

Little Chicago: PlainSky Nebraskan No. 23, 24" x16" on Red River Polar Luster

Little Chicago, from the PlainSky, Nebraskans series

I’m honored to see “10 Things I Learned from the PlainSky, Nebraskans” have an 8-page spread in the Fall 2016 edition of the Tri-State Cattle Journal. I’ve had several requests from readers that I re-feature the post so that they can share it on social media, so here it is:


Originally Published on July 16, 2012

I began the PlainSky, Nebraskans project three years ago. My daughter was two; I was finishing my master’s thesis; we had lived in our present home less than a year. But I felt called to the project, energized by it, focused by the prospect of documenting a way of life with which I was familiar, but knew others weren’t. And time was running out.

So here I sit, the project well in hand, the first show opening in nine months, and a companion limited-edition book. So what? That’s not why I did this; I was looking for lessons, not praise. I was searching for cultural memories and ways in which to preserve them, mainly through photographs. Still, what have I learned?

And then, Rachel Larson’s 25 Things list crossed my path. She codified everything I had seen from the honest, hardworking Nebraskans I have been photographing; and I realized–not surprisingly–the project needed a set of lessons. So Rachel, here’s to you; you’ve cemented ranch culture for those who have lived it, as well as those who have never known it. My list can’t compare, but here it is, anyway.

10 Lessons for All of Us from PlainSky, Nebraskans

  1. Trust, and be trustworthy. I am reminded of a previous post about Joe Whiteaker, owner of Whiteaker’s Clothing in Harrison, who told a broke cowboy to wear a new pair of boots out the door without paying for them. Joe trusted the cowboy to pay for them when he could, and the cowboy knew he couldn’t break that gift of trust Joe had invested. In this era of defaulted loans, scrutinizing credit agencies and circular squabbles, it’s worth it to remember that the Whiteaker’s way of doing business was once the norm. Once, we trusted each other. The PlainSky, Nebraskans still do.
  2. Be a good neighbor and good citizen. People in Harrison, Arthur, Crawford and other towns across the western part of Nebraska are keenly aware of one thing: All they have is each other. Without everyone helping everyone, no questions asked, no refusals, there is no neighborhood, no community and no survival. Helping a neighbor means down the road, you’ll have someone you, too, can ask for help. What’s more, you’ll feel good about yourself and the place in which you live.
  3. Look people in the eye, and have a firm handshake. Why do so many people avoid eye contact, or brush off that simplest sign of good intentions, the handshake? Because we’ve grown accustomed to living lives of solitude and mistrust. Let people know you mean what you say, and you’re glad to see them, in these two easy steps. I’ve never met anyone in western Nebraska who did otherwise.
  4. Respect your upbringing. In western Nebraska, every family I’ve worked with has told story after story about family; some were funny, some morose, but all important to what the family had become. These people don’t try to escape their blood, they accept that no one is perfect. All parents can do is try their best, and someday, each child will have to do the same.
  5. Cherish simplicity. In brief, unplug. Sit on a horse. Watch a sunrise. Smell the rain. Build a memory. It’s funny how the world moves slower once you do this.
  6. Say thanks. Everyone deserves a simple, heartfelt “thank you” for help rendered, no matter how small. Time and time again, I have heard these people (who are of few words by nature) say this–and mean it.
  7. Eat a meal together. Without the television. Or smartphones. Just good, simple food (lots of it), good family and friends, and lots of stories and smiles.
  8. Break a good sweat. Whether it’s for your own benefit or someone else, there is a singular joy in hard physical work. At the end of it, you don’t just tell yourself you’ve been working; you feel it. Moreover, you look back at the job and say with pride, “I did that.”
  9. Tie one on. Hard physical work justifies the occasional raucous evening. Think of it as decompression.
  10. Live this moment. Every waking hour (and for western Nebraska ranching families, there are a lot in a day), we should remember that this moment won’t come again. The way the Herefords cluster in a draw of the land, or how the grass becomes molten gold in the late evening sun, or when the breeze rises just enough to cool your face on a hot summer afternoon. They’re all precious; don’t wish any of them away. Today is enough; live this moment.

Am I wealthier from the PlainSky, Nebraskans project? Not monetarily, no. But certainly spiritually. I, too, have learned to live this moment.

Making a Museum Print

One the two prints: "Horses and Gathering Storm"

One the two prints: “Horses and Gathering Storm”

I made two prints this weekend: “Horses and Gathering Storm” and “Leif and Claire.” Two calibrated, museum-grade prints on my Epson Stylus Pro 3880. Prints that took me more than 14 hours of work between them, so much work that it really chafes when people suggest “digital has made producing photographic prints so much easier.” Maybe simple memory prints, but there is just as much work as before when making the top-quality products.

If you’d like a look into what just one part of the process entails, Field & Studio, where I have a tutorial for just the print feed calibration phase of the printing.

New Tutorial: Fixing Banding in Museum-quality Prints on the Epson 3880 and P800

The Hopeful Final Print.

The Hopeful Final Print.

I’ve just completed a new tutorial on Field & Studio, my tutorial blog, for an easy way to remove slight banding in black and white prints when using the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 or the Epson SureColor P800. If you, too, are looking to find a solution to this vexing problem, this post may help.

I was spurred into finding my own solution to this after I struggled with the print shown here; it has low depth of field, which can pose a problem for inkjet printers. Let me know if you, too, have had the problem, and if my solution helped.

Remembering is My Livelihood at the Nebraska Cultural Endowment

Nebraska Cultural Endowment: Livelihood

Nebraska Cultural Endowment: Livelihood

There are surreal moments in a photographic life; after all, that life is often a solitary one, with long, quiet hours spent on the road, in the field, and in one’s own mind. After a time, it’s easy to begin thinking about the absurdity of those pursuits, the frivolity of such a life. But moments like this morning are very nice indeed, and they infuse me with energy for years to come.

Erin Sample, the communications director at the Nebraska Cultural Endowment, the partner organization to the Nebraska Arts Council (where my show Recollections is featuring through May), contacted me in late March and asked if she could feature me as one of their statewide “Livelihood” stories. I didn’t hesitate for a moment, for it is a profound honor. So I sent in my materials, and Erin worked with me to finalize the feature. And then I put it out of my mind, until Erin e-mailed me this morning: “Brett, the story’s up!”

I’ve had a lot—a LOT—of shows. I’ve given lots of talks. Each was an honor, too. But I’m so very moved to be featured in this way, and I’m emotionally and physically humbled as well, because I’m being included in a group of very, very impressive Nebraskans.

And I hope the Cultural Endowment doesn’t regret their decision.

From the Rural Impressions Show: Machine Shed, Kansas

Machine Shed, Kansas

Machine Shed, Kansas

The Rural Impressions show opens this Friday at the Graham Gallery in Hastings, with a public reception from 6-9 pm on Saturday. Featuring 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, including the image above, the show is meant to inspire viewers to contemplate the myriad forces at work in the rural Great Plains and American West.

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.

Santa Fe Workshops: Come Learn with Me in 2014

Join Me Learning Fine Art Digital Printmaking in Santa Fe!

Join Me Learning Fine Art Digital Printmaking in Santa Fe!

My mother tells a story that goes something like this: When I was 15, I was engrossed in a typical pastime at my grandmother’s house–looking at pictures in old copies of National Geographic. I ran upstairs, holding out a picture of two fishermen in Newfoundland, saying, “This is what I want to do!” The picture was by Sam Abell, who years later in an unbelievable turn of fate became my friend, mentor, and classroom colleague. No words can ever express the honor and joy I’ve experienced through working with Sam.

Similarly, I used to look at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops catalogue, awestruck by the photographers who had earned places there as instructors. How amazing, I thought, to take a class in Santa Fe from such people. Had you told me then that I would teach there instead, I’d have laughed in disbelief.

But no more.

The coming summer marks the first (and hopefully not last) course I will teach at the Workshops, The American West: Crafting Fine Digital Prints, from June 30-July 4. I’m eternally grateful to Reid Callanan, the SFPW director, for the opportunity, and I hope to see many of you in the digital lab this summer!

Published at National Geographic: Vince Connolly, Pleasanton Rodeo

Vince Connelly, Pleasanton Rodeo

Vince Connelly, Pleasanton Rodeo

Last night was a good night: Chris Combs and the editorial staff at National Geographic’s Your Shot chose my image Vince Connolly, Pleasanton Rodeo for the story “The Night.” See the story here at National Geographic.

Are my feet still on the ground? Yup. After all, as Patrick DeMarchelier always says, “You’re only as good as your last photograph.”

Keep shooting.