I’ve queued up another image from the archives–one with a similar story to the glowing gate from the previous post. In both cases, the capture involved archaic weaponry: a roll of Kodak negative film and an obscure 120 film camera. For this one, it was the Fuji 645W, an odd plastic camera known for its unusually sharp lens. I also owned the 645S–similarly designed with the addition of a “roll bar”. I liked them both because they were undersized. I could travel light and shoot without a tripod. Nowadays they’re stored in the basement in a shoe box near my record collection.
The abandoned house was discovered after an afternoon of zig-zagging through the plains. As usual, we were out on the greyest roads on the map. Once you get into this part of the country you begin asking yourself, “Now what do we do?”
My companion took no pictures, but I was engaging the question.
The plains are the least photographed part of North America–a fact which is even more astonishing when you realize that they represent about a third of the United States.
As I’ve written before, this is a place which is currently reexamining a number of historic assumptions–having had a lengthy quarrel with invading Europeans. At the moment, the plains are back in charge, especially west of the 100th meridian where the middle of North America is filling up with ghost towns. It’s the same story from Saskatchewan to the Texas panhandle.
There have been books which tell the of the struggle, and Willa Cather’s My Antonia is a personal favorite. But the contest has also being written into the the photographic record. Two photographers come to mind: John Vachon and David Plowden.
Vachon was an artist employed by the FSA seventy years ago during the depression, and was one of the first photographers to focus a lens on the life and landscapes of the farming population of the Dakotas. By the 1930’s it was already apparent that this was not an easy place for a gig. He took many images, but none is more deeply felt than the one of school children playing in a snow storm. It was recess. It looks cold, and the children are constructing a fort. Behind them: a one-roomed schoolhouse in blowing sheets of snow. A few decades later, Plowden published The Floor of The Sky. This time, many of the photographs were in color. The photographer wisely chose to make C Prints. They were warm-toned, bittersweet and full of lonely grass.
Both photographers looked closely at the people as well. As I flip through their books nowadays, it’s hard not to notice the similarity between the furrows in the fields and the deep lines in the faces.
There’s a link for Vachon’s image (at the Library of Congress) below in the comments.
And, keeping within this theme–two related posts from a few months ago: