Terry Evans: Inhabited Prairie @Yancey Richardson

JTF (just the facts): A total of 19 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. 18 of the works are vintage gelatin silver prints and the remaining work is a modern archival pigment print; all of the images were taken between 1990 and 1994. The gelatin silver prints are sized 15×15, while the pigment print is 30×30; no edition information was available for the vintage prints, while the pigment print is available in an edition of 10. A monograph of this body of work was published by the University Press of Kansas in 1998 (here). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: By its very nature, aerial photography is about finding new perspectives, about putting some distance between the photographer and the subject. When seen from above, the land becomes a patchwork of patterns and abstractions, lines and forms that were unseen at ground level. American photography has a rich tradition in aerial picture making, from early surveys and elegant land forms (think William Garnett), to more recent documents of suburban sprawl, industrial waste lands, oil spills, and other environmental blights. Looking down from the sky allows us to see the broad expanse of the land, and to measure our visible impact upon it.

While the mood of much of contemporary aerial photography swings between despair and disgust, Terry Evans’ pictures of the Kansas prairie are more neutral. They don’t shout at us about the sweeping horrors of our industrial follies or ecological disasters, but instead take a more dispassionate look at a specific local setting, where the regional geography is seen with intimacy and insight. Made while striking out on flights in a 25 mile radius from her home, the photographs are filled with the rich tonalities of rolling hills, undulating swales and valleys, and the natural rhythms of floods and prairie fires. A small pond, the edge of a cultivated field, or the sweep of a tree line is often the basis of a tactile, middle grey composition.

But Evans’ prairie is an inhabited one (hence the title of the show and accompanying book), and the hand of man interrupts the grand open spaces time and again. The interventions start small, with an abandoned farm house or a small cemetery amid the wavy furrows of the dusty fields, the ghostly remains of a Native American settlement mixed in with the striations of the plowed land, or the swirling worn paths of tiny cows in a cattle yard. A more organized presence is found in the march of electric towers or the arc of train tracks across the land, but Evans’ view is restrained and matter of fact rather than outraged; the sweeping energetic curve of a white striped roadway is more a contrast of hard edged and natural forms than a nasty slash across the pristine prairie. Even the ugliest of man made alterations (a grubby asphalt mine, a weapons testing range) are made gracefully textural by her muted aesthetic approach; the violence of the targeting circle is heightened by the empty dark blackness of the grass, but somehow softened by the miniature white tires which mark the ring.

What I like best about these photographs is that Evans has found a way to make her aerial photographs sensitive and personal without being bombastic. They are neither overly scientific or overtly slanted in any particular direction; instead, they find a quietly understated balance that reflects genuine respect for and interest in the land and her local community. They ask questions about the changing relationship between man and nature on the American prairie, and let us draw our own conclusions about what is to be learned from these complex realities.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The vintage gelatin silver prints range from $5000 to $6500, while the larger modern pigment print is $5600. Evans’ work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Terry Evans, Yancey Richardson Gallery, University Press of Kansas

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