American West

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The American West Dries Up

“Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown stood on a dry, bare hillside in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which would normally be deep under snow at this time of year, and announced an executive order aimed at dramatically reducing water usage statewide. The severity of the drought, now entering its fourth year, has already reached record levels in many places in California and across the West. Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border, is currently at 45 percent of capacity and is at risk of reaching the lowest level on record by September. California’s snowpack, which generally provides about a third of the state’s water, is already at its lowest level on record. Getty Images photographer Justin Sullivan traveled to lakes and reservoirs in California, Utah, and Arizona to capture the following scenes of an increasingly waterless West.”

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The American West has been known as the final frontier. Photographer Jeremy Wade Shockley set out with his iPhone to document the West with a fresh perspective. He writes:

iPhone photography is a way for me to ‘see’ again, beautifully blurring the line between assignments and the moments in between. The life I live. Documenting my immediate surroundings comes naturally to me.

The Vast American West Captured With an iPhone

via The Click

“You won’t find them in Hollywood’s old Western movies, except maybe as slaves or comics. You won’t find them in history books either. They are the black cowboys of the late 1800s. From the plantations of the South to the plains of Texas, black cowboys made their mark on the subduing of the vast western territories, keeping the peace with indigenous peoples, "putting out fires” as buffalo soldiers sent to hot spots, and later as cowboys in America’s cattle industry and – gaining fame and glory in the rodeos of our nation"

October 8, 1871: Chicago Is Set Aflame

On this day in 1871, a fire broke out in a Chicago barn, leaving 100,000 people homeless and destroying four square miles of the city. The Great Fire was extinguished two days later and its rapid spread was attributed to winds and wood-based construction in most buildings.

Fortunately, much of Chicago’s essential industrial infrastructure was unharmed, and Chicago quickly regained its status as the economic center of the American West.

For more details on The Great Fire of 1871 and its effects on the city, explore American Experience’s “Chicago: City of the Century.”

Photo: The Great Chicago Fire, an artists rendering, “Chicago in Flames – The Rush for Lives Over Randolph Street Bridge” (John R. Chapin/Harper’s Weekly/ Wikimedia Commons).

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“Why is Form beautiful? Because, I think, it helps us confront our worst fear: the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.”–Robert Adams

Robert Adams, who is widely recognized and who has published more than forty monographs, is one our great, American photographers. His vision of the American West has forever shaped how artists (and indeed many of us) look at these vast spaces. His contemplative, quiet images from the past fifty years have become a new Americana. We can keep returning to his work and still find ourselves asking questions and seeking answers. 

Currently on view in Paris at the historic, Jeu de Paume, Adams’ classic series, “The Place We Live”, will be exhibited until 18 May. (PBS has also released a new video interviewing Adams.) Seeing his handmade prints, with their gracious attention to light and form, is an opportunity not to be missed, and perhaps, a chance to come in from the chaos.–Lane Nevares