The Inspiration of Dorthea Lange

Last week I had the pleasure of watching the American Masters documentary on PBS about one of my heroes, Great Depression photographer Dorthea Lange.  Her work has greatly influenced my abandoned farmhouse hunting and photography whenever I visit my family in South Dakota.  Dorthea’s compassion and unyielding desire to tell the tragic and heroic stories of our nation’s poor, interned and displaced through photography woke our nation up.  Dorthea’s images prompted more action than print alone could possibly ever have conveyed.

I’ve always found great beauty among the ruins in all forms.  Things that are new just don’t give me much creative juice.  I like to see everything worn out, faded, distressed and destroyed.  To me there’s always a lot more stories among the ruins.

“It is not enough to photograph the obviously picturesque.”

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“Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion… the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.”

—Dorthea Lange

You can watch the American Masters documentary online or look on demand from your local listings.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/dorothea-lange-full-episode/3260/

These images I shot with my niece south of Burke, South Dakota in January.  I’m guessing someone will recognize the house, my sincere apologies for trespassing.  The pull to see what was inside was just too much for us to resist.

There are links to Dorthea’s biography and images if you scroll down.

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Dorthea Lange’s biography

Dorthea Lange’s photographs

Herrick, South Dakota

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The week before Thanksgiving I was in South Dakota visiting my family.  I had an afternoon to drive around and shoot some photos.  I headed to Herrick, just east of Burke, listening to korn country 92.1. I love Keith Urban’s song; Blue Ain’t Your Color.  If you don’t know this song, it’s a damn shame.  Here’s the video.

I spent a lot of time in Herrick growing up.  I “worked bees” two summers. That was highly educational, messy and sometimes painful work.  I got stung 17 times one day (my forearms looked like Popeye’s). I played softball in the field behind the truck.  I think I might’ve even knocked back a few beers at parties in the outfield on occasion. I had a friend who lived on a farm in Herrick and since I was a “city kid” riding the bus to Anita’s farm was a grand adventure.  We could drive at fourteen.  We didn’t have to ride the bus too long.  So, I had a blast driving around Herrick in beautiful, autumn, late afternoon light and thinking about my Herrick Days.

Next time, perhaps a whole series of photos devoted to Bernie’s Inn, the historic watering hole in Herrick.  Would that be a possibility?  Let me know.

Prairie beauty. 

There is a unique beauty the prairie possesses. The starkness out here is as rugged as the frontier spirit.  This is a part of the world that would prefer things stay known, steady and traditional. It never does. Shifts occur. 

I’m visiting my family in South Dakota now. I can see both the independence I reveled in as a teenager AND the uncertainty about how the world is changing.  Understanding this duality fosters my curiosity about things unknown. I like that. I’m grateful for both my independence and my deep roots here. 

Life is a puzzle, people are puzzling and sometimes all we can do is keep looking between the cushions or under the couch for the piece we’re missing. 

Let’s all keep seeking understanding and looking for the missing pieces folks. Let’s ask more questions of eachother than lecture. I do believe a little curiosity can change the world or at least your holiday table.  It will be a much shorter drive home from Grandma’s if everyone felt heard and respected. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

geography & identity

I’m very curious about how our interior geography affects our moods and choices in life.  I find myself at nearly 50 years old realizing that I need a lot of spaciousness to feel most comfortable in my own skin.  I truly understand how growing up and forming my identity on the prairie instilled an interior geography within me. I want to understand this better.

prairie beach lillibridge interior geography

There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.

—Josephine Hart, Irish novelist

I layered these images of flying into South Dakota and the Town Neck Beach approach in Sandwich, Massachusetts.  The vastness of the ocean gives me the same feeling of ease that the prairie gives me.  It doesn’t matter if I’m driving country roads in South Dakota or kayaking the Cape Cod Bay.  The inner feeling is the same.

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I just ordered this book:  Geographical Psychology: Exploring the Interaction of Environment and Behavior by Peter J. Rentfrow, PhD.

“The research described in this volume indicates that personality, political ideology, well-being, happiness, human virtues, and personal concerns are related to several important geographic social indicators.”

I can’t wait to delve further into more understanding about this subject.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

 

 

prairie stories.

My family and I are heading to Burke, South Dakota to see my clan this week for our April break.  My days will be filled with my family, the Ponca Creek Bull Sale, hopefully a new baby, old friends and some meandering drives on the prairie roads I adore.

My camera is being cleaned so this trip will be all heart and memory.  It feels a little weird to me but there’s nothing I can do.  I will have my phone however.  I may need to borrow a camera at the bull sale and if my niece’s baby does arrive while we are home. I’m really trying to be “in the moment” and not as concerned with getting the shot.  It’s a tough habit to break though.

Here are a couple of old photos I layered this morning while my daughter Lucy was packing.

The first image is main street in Burke layered with a prairie sunrise image from my parent’s back porch.  Having coffee on the porch with my Mom is always one of my favorite parts of my time at home.

The second image is a country road layered with a sign I saw in the Las Vegas airport years ago.  I’m not sure what “burke in the box” is, but I thought it was interesting.

I hope you find yourself “at home” within yourself whatever your life demands of you this week.

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I’m seeing the prairie everywhere.

hyperfocus

noun

  1. An intense form of mental concentration or visualization that focuses the consciousness on a narrow subject.

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I love getting hyperfocused creatively.  This lets me rule out all of the other possibilities I get so distracted by all day every day.  So right now—February of the year 2016 my focus is on the prairie.  My ideas have a place to land and someone to explore them with.  This collaborative project is in the conceptual stage, but there’s a guiding principle and that makes all the difference.

I highly recommend, if you haven’t already, to make some choices about where you want to spend your energy.  I did an inventory and I realized that a few things on my list just had to go.  There isn’t time for everything that interests me.  I had to prioritize.  It wasn’t easy, but taking a hard look at my list was pretty eye-opening.

Rust, memories and the wisdom of Willa Cather.

Willa Cather quote Lillibridge rust print lillibridge rust print

I did a three day workshop with Elizabeth Bunsen last week.  This is one of the prints I made with indigo and rust.  I wanted to take my print and add the prairie influences that are speaking to me right now.  I used my photographs and one of my leather pendants in one of the circular spaces on the print.  I’m not sure which image I like best.  They seem like very different art forms now.