The Great Plains
Agriculture shapes much of the landscape documented in The Great Plains, a limited edition of photographs by Lincoln Schatz. In this collection Schatz directs his camera at the relationship between humans and the land they work in middle America. Stretching across this open expanse of countryside we can see how this landscape been transformed again and again over the last several hundred years.
Where once grasslands and prairie grew on rolling hills, cornfields now stretch for as far as you can see. This expansive, all encompassing and endless landscape of agriculture is captured in the four panel photograph, The Great Plains (7). The rows blend together as the corn grows taller. The stalks stretching high in the summer heat. By the time August comes the vistas seen in this edition will have entirely disappeared. Hidden by corn taller than a person.
Monocropping, a practice where farmers grow only one crop dominates the land here. The diversity of plants which once would have existed is long gone. Now only slivers of untilled land remain between the fields. Here, the farms grow almost exclusively corn or soybeans.
Standing at the edge of a cornfield in Nebraska the sun strikes everything around me as I photograph the open landscape. Water saturates the air. The humidity has been constant for days at this point. A chorus of insects create a soundscape that surrounds me as I walk through the fields. This place is dotted with farm buildings, electrical transmission lines, windmills, radio towers, train tracks and roads. Carving and cutting this land apart, interrupting row after row of corn.
The remnants of prior growing traditions can still be found in the family vegetable gardens that are captured in the late light of day. Providing a counterpoint to the ways farming has evolved over time.
These gardens are domestic in scale. The food grown here is meant for the family table. Some will be canned. Some will be frozen and some stored in the cellar, but much will be eaten fresh as it comes in from the garden. As the summer passes and the vegetables go in and out of season they are harvested by the family daily. Succession planting means that they will be well fed.
Outbuildings and tall pine trees stand between the gardens and the fields beyond. Providing protection for both plants and house. Winters can be brutal here, the snow and winds blowing across the flat open land. The trees and outbuildings provide the only cover in these conditions.
Moving from farm to city, train tracks stretch alongside highways. The railroad lines run parallel to the asphalt. Both large locomotives and semi-trucks will haul the harvest in fall to processing facilities. Little of this will be for direct human consumption. Upwards of forty percent of all US corn will be used in the production of Ethanol. And another fifty percent of this corn will be used for livestock feed. The rest, a slender ten percent, has human and industrial applications.
The land struggles with each passing year and another round of crops. Constant farming without any fallow seasons depletes the soil of nutrients. Fertilizers and other chemicals are sprayed and tilled into the ground each spring.
Cover crops that would provide organic support have been largely eliminated and the impact of these contemporary farming practices can be seen directly in the landscapes photographed here. It is a difficult way to make a living and a life, but there is an incredible beauty to these places as well.
Abandoned gas stations, restaurants, commercial buildings and homes dot the interstitial space between the interstate and the agricultural lands of Iowa and Nebraska. These structures, no longer performing their intended purpose, are left to crumble and decay. Economies change, people migrate and disasters both natural and man made have conspired in aiding this decline. They remain as emblems of an earlier period, marking time.
And while people have left to bigger cities and areas with more opportunity, not everyone has gone. Many remain and others join them. Seeking a new life in these expansive landscapes. Finding ways to carve out an existence here in The Great Plains. Many new farmers, seeking to find a different way of growing, have turned to organic and other more environmentally aware framing practices.
Along with these changes in farming, the landscape has started to change in other ways as well. In many of the photographs found in this edition by Schatz, one can see wind mills standing in the distance. Generating electricity for the power grid. Providing clean energy to homes here and elsewhere. Sentinels standing tall in the fields of corn. Their blades slowly turning in the wind.
The Great Plains is a collection of limited edition landscape photographs now available to purchase. For more information on the collection, including edition size, framing, and pricing please click here. If you are interested in purchasing these works, please be in touch.