I am in love. With David Plowden and his stunning black and white photographs of the American Plains and Prairie. It’s been one of those serendipitous encounters: The big photograph of a field in Iowa in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye because any photography of the Midwest does, and the accompanying brief review of his book Heartland sounded intriguing; I looked him up, found his beautiful website, and an announcement that there was a) an exhibit of some of the works from Heartland at the Columbia College Library, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Photography, and b) he was going to speak at the closing reception, and c) this event (on Tuesday) actually fit into my schedule. I asked a friend who is equally interested in photography of the Great Plains, and it fit into her schedule, too, so we went.
We left enamored. Not only with David Plowden’s work but with the charming old gentleman himself. He spoke so eloquently of this region that most people fly over or drive through as fast as they can; he shared so generously his take on the challenge of capturing the beauty of this flat land and the essence of its vastness, and he took the time to inscribe each book with a personal note (mine, too).
I spent some time yesterday studying the photos in Heartland, and I feel I have been given a great gift. It made me long to drive along the endless roads of Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska again that I’ve traveled on a few road trips, most recently in 2011. There is much I can learn from his work, as I am often out there in the wide expanse of northwestern Indiana, pondering how to capture its grandness and the spectacle that the sky so often is. (My favorite photo so far in Heartland: Abandoned House, Cropsey Township, McLean County, Illinois)
It was also a great pleasure to read Plowden’s introductory essay. Here is someone who gets this land, way more than I do, since he was spent so much time roaming its back roads in search for the next great photograph. Here’s a little snippet from his essay to give you a taste of his writing – do look up his work, please, or if you are familiar with it, revisit it again. It’s well worth your while.
From Heartland by David Plowden:
I saw, too, man – us – in another context. Here he dwelt not in the protected valleys of Vermont or the canyons of his creation in New York City but held on with a most tenuous grasp this insignificant interface betwixt the heavens and the earth.
…a landscape that appeared to have been reduced to the basic fundamentals, just sky and earth.