I drive a lot of back roads. A lot. It drives my wife—and on trips, my students—nuts at times. But this habit grew from my understanding that back roads offer prime chances at images few people ever see, a chance to unite a rural sensibility with a visual aesthetic that has both meaning and appeal.
Print No. 2: Ardmore, South Dakota. The looming specter of depopulation for neighboring Sioux County, Nebraska.
What!? What’s a shot of a South Dakota town doing in a project called “PlainSky, Nebraskans!?”
A legitimate question, that; let me explain.
Northwest Nebraska is dying. Actually, much of Nebraska is dying, as children enthusiastically flee the small towns in which they grew up, enamored with the lights and busyness of bigger cities like Lincoln, Omaha, Denver and others. Here, it’s called “The Brain Drain.”
Ardmore is a cautionary tale: Once, this town was large enough for a presidential whistle stop visit in the 1920s. It survived The Great Depression; world economic woes were bearable for Ardmore, but The Brain Drain wasn’t. In 1980, the population had dwindled to 16, and by 2004, to nothing.
“Okay, there are lots of ghost towns across the West. Why does this pertain to PlainSky?” one might ask.
Why? Ardmore is less than an hour’s drive from Crawford. Less than 15 minutes from Ray Semroska’s ranch and the Montrose church. Only about a mile from the Nebraska border.
And it’s dead.
The Great Plains of the past are endangered, and Ardmore is the future of this culture unless something changes.
“Oh,” one might say. “Ardmore. I get it.”