The Inhabited Prairie

Terry Evans

If you want to grasp the rich complexity of the past, observes environmental historian Donald Worster, you could do worse than spend time on the prairie. Seen from high above, it is an orderly grid of farmland; closer to ground level, it reveals the industriousness of humanity in the making and remaking of the land.

Considered by many to be lacking in inspiration, the prairie is shown by photographer Terry Evans to be a land of varied textures. Evans seeks to have us pay attention to the ways we perceive both the natural and the cultural in this underappreciated landscape, and in this stunning collection of photographs she reads the land for the stories it has to tell.

“Terry Evans’s beautiful pictures are made with a sure sense of design and with clear pleasure in seeing. They are also a way for her to understand the complexities of the prairie, a land she knows well. To those of us who know it not nearly as well, the wide and flat prairie seems large, clear, perhaps even predictable, but in these aerial pictures she reveals a marvelous fabric of geological design and the contemporary engagement with land, an interweaving of ancient and modern history revealed in the forms left by a prehistoric sea and the shadow of a deer passing through a bombing range.”

—Sandra S. Phillips, Curator of Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

“Terry Evans, a lifetime inhabitant of the American prairie, is not bound strictly to the land as she takes in its beauty and troubles. She flies over its continental immensity by airplane. From her point of view and skills as an artist, one realizes that all that has been written and sung about this land has been perhaps no exaggeration, either in magnificence or concern.”

—David Travis, Curator of Photography, The Art Institute of Chicago

Widely known for her spectacular photographs of pristine prairie, Evans here works at low altitudes to focus on the land as an inhabited place. These fifty black-and-white images document specific locations and disclose some of the contradictions and mysteries about how we live on the prairie. Through her lens we view the site of an ancient Indian village, targets on the Smoky Hill Weapons Range, and old country cemeteries; observe the startling contours of plowed fields and sandpits; and witness the tranquility of deer grazing on new winter wheat. All of these images help us to understand the layers of life on the prairie and the complex interweaving of nature and man.

"Outdoor pictures are supposed to be scenes of picturesque beauty," Worster writes in his accompanying essay, "and the prairies have seldom met that ideal for most people. Only a few artists have tried to figure out how to get its tangled, intricate weave into a revealing frame." Terry Evans has met that challenge, staking out a middle ground between the extremes of wilderness and grid to show us that the prairie is more than a commodity to be subdivided and sold. She brings to The Inhabited Prairie a keen sense of understanding combined with deep artistic vision, opening our eyes to a prairie we live with but perhaps seldom see.

About the Author

Currently a resident of Chicago, Terry Evans lived for twenty-six years in Salina, Kansas, and serves on the board of directors of The Land Institute. Her work is included in the permanent collections of such museums as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art. Other published collections of her work include Prairie: Images of Ground and Sky and Disarming the Prairie.