Edwards talk: a love of the prairies and plains | VailDaily.com

Edwards talk: a love of the prairies and plains

Stephen Bedford
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

EDWARDS, Colorado ” A woman stands proudly behind the white picket fence that surrounds her quaint house, all three looking worn but perfectly happy, thus creating an idyllic portrait of the high plains country, its people and places.

More than 150 images such as these form the heart and soul of “West of Last Chance,” a collaboration between celebrated photographer and award-winning author Kent Haruf. The book serves as an evocative visual and verbal tribute to the high plains regions of Colorado, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

Both contributors will be present at The Bookworm in Edwards today at 6 p.m. to discuss their unique venture, as well as the travel and techniques behind it.

Although Haruf may be the more recognizable name to the book community given his success with the acclaimed novel “Plainsong,” it’s Brown’s stark photographs that truly shine.

With an uncanny visual clarity and an emphasis on depth-of-field, Brown captures the vast, barren landscapes in vivid detail. The photographs convey the sense of acres of undisturbed, placid tracts, sometimes bisected by a single set of tire tracks or complemented with billowy clouds.

“I’m interested in the way things look naturally,” Brown said from his Houston-area home. “A normal to wide angle lens conveys the natural look of the plains better than any other format. Panoramic cameras, for me, do not emphasize the height of the sky enough.”

In addition to his sweeping landscapes, Brown also captures the essence of the plains folks, communicating a sense of pride in their environment.

A man, presumably named Al, wraps his arm around a gas pump that would be considered vintage in the big city in front of an eponymous service station.

A fellow displays his arrowhead collection with a spirited smile stretching across his worn, creaky face. Another man with tusks of a mustache hunkers down on a rusted Chevrolet pick up, likely older than he is, embracing his black dog.

Brown said he didn’t actively seek out particular types of folks, but instead they found him.

“The camera was always used on a tripod and it’s an old, wooden camera with a leather bellows,” Brown said. “It would often draw curious people who would then become quite helpful.”

Enriching Brown’s photography is a series of journal entries, anecdotes, and essays crafted by Colorado-native Haruf. Some fill an entire page, others just a few lines, but all are intended to narrate the lives and times of the plains’ denizens.

Similar to Brown’s photographic vision, Haruf rarely gussies up any writing.

Everything, photos and words, are presented without flash or embellishment, a writing style that garnered Haruf a National Book of the Year nomination for “Plainsong.”

“Plainsong” was recently adapted for a stage show in Denver, a project Haruf consulted on throughout the nine drafts of his novel’s adaptation.

“I think everyone involved did a terrific job with such a big, complex production,” Haruf said. “It was such a skillful job and I was delighted to be a part of it. They [the producers] were kind enough to let me to talk to the actors and discuss their [the novel’s characters] backgrounds.”

Brown and Haruf first met in 1999 at the Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Haruf said. Instantly enamored with Brown’s work, Haruf said he recruited the photographer to shoot potential cover images for a novel.

The two quickly found common ground over their love and admiration for the plains and its people, Haruf said, thus planting the seeds to the West of Last Chance project.

Both traveled the depicted areas extensively, Haruf said, particularly the Limon and Yuma areas of eastern Colorado. Occasionally, rough drafts of the book’s format were assembled on motel beds, Haruf said, before a natural logical sequence was found.

“This project was a great satisfaction for both us,” Haruf said. “We’ve been great friends for a while now and to share this project together was very rewarding.”

Stephen Bedford is the general manager of the Bookworm.

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