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.
Ponderosa Roots, Pine Ridge
Across the West, the pine bark beetle has destroyed many of the pine forests so many Americans envision when they hear, “mountain woods.” A century of fire suppression, coupled with invasive species and political wars, conspired to make these forests a virtual smorgasbord for the beetle, and now many stands of pine have been reduced to little more than brown, dead opportunities for uncontrollable and destructive–rather than regenerative–fires.
The problem represents a painful reality for ranchers like Dave Kreman, whose land has been handed down through the generations since before the last of the 19th century. He is forced to watch as the stands of trees, so vital to the health of the land he so carefully manages in the interest of his family, his cattle, and the environment, are systematically devastated by an enemy he can’t fight.