Dawes County

The PlainSky, Nebraskans Show: The Complete Works No. 8

Change, Dawes County: The PlainSky, Nebraskans Show No. 7

Change, Dawes County: PlainSky, Nebraskans No. 7

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.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Calf Release, Dawes County

Calf Release, Dawes County

Calf Release, Dawes County

I wrote yesterday about the two young cowhands I shot during a branding a few weeks ago, and here is another shot from that series. After branding a calf, one doesn’t just stand up–unless he or she would like a very angry calf running amok among the other folks working. So, as one lets up the calf, he or she grabs the rear leg and swings the youngster around toward the open ground past the work area, and the calf charges off. It’s a neat skill, and these two boys had lots of practice that morning, evidenced by this photo.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Initial Butte Panorama, Dawes County

Initial Butte Panorama, Dawes County
Initial Butte Panorama, Dawes County

Western Nebraskans are tremendously welcoming and gracious once you break through their tough exterior. Case in point: Dave Kreman. Together with his wife, he owns the Ranch House Restaurant in Crawford (good place to eat, by the way, and great for pictures), and also owns a large ranch: 300 cattle and 6000 acres of land. Yesterday morning, he picked my students and me up at Fort Robinson at 6:20 a.m., and drove us into the backcountry of his ranch to Initial Butte.

“Boy, I wish somebody would make a panorama of this view,” Dave said to me.

So I did.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Corral, Dawes County

Corral, Dawes County

Corral, Dawes County

“PlainSky, Nebraskans” as a project focuses on the interrelationships between people, industry, the landscape and the sky of western Nebraska, and when I found this corral, with its inverted Da Vinci triangle leading us to the horizon, power lines and ranch in the far distant hills, jet contrails dissipating overhead, I wheeled my truck around, parked in the ditch, and set up the shot.

There is a significant degree of meaning in this image, but much of it is subtle–another hallmark of the project. Why? I’m reminded of a biker I knew from another state, who said Nebraska was just somewhere to “get through.” “PlainSky, Nebraskans” is an artistic and documentary endeavor to force both residents and visitors to stop, look and contemplate.

Railway Graffiti, Dawes County, Nebraska

Railway Graffiti, Dawes County, Nebraska

Railway Graffiti, Dawes County, Nebraska

On a Sunday morning in June, I drove miles on a gravel road paralleling the train rails in northwest Nebraska, looking for another image in my “PlainSky, Nebraskans” project. I knew I wanted to use the windows created at the bottom of the coal cars to frame the issues of farming, landscape and social change in the area, but I had no idea I would receive the gift this patch of graffiti would offer; and at the moment of the shot, two red-winged blackbirds chose to land on the fence at the right of the frame.

The first show opens in April 2013.