Even though I no longer live in the Midwest, my connection with the countryside has turned out to be deeper than I ever imagined. There is something about the light, the long shadows, the stands of trees and sturdy structures against the flat horizon.
— Nancy Warner
San Francisco photographer Nancy Warner grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. There she spent a lot of time on the farms of aunts and uncles near West Point, a small town in Cuming County, about 70 miles northwest of Omaha. Her grandparents emigrated from Germany and arrived in the area around 1865. The home they built is still in the family. Four generations have lived in, and left, the old farmhouse, now inhabited on the ground floor by two bachelor cousins.
This series of photographs were mostly made in Cuming County and the surrounding area between 2001 and 2008. Locals in the area helped her search for broken-down buildings with what she regarded as a treasure trove of photographic possibilities: torn curtains, layers of peeling wallpaper, cracked paint and plaster, worn wood, old clothing in closets, and objects left on shelves and untouched for years. The photographs invite contemplation of these abandoned interiors and buildings, sometimes in the landscape.
Some of the images in This Place, These People first appeared in print in issue 37 of Black & White magazine. Over fifty photographs from the series were first exhibited in the Great Plains Art Museum in 2008. A later exhibit at the Norfolk Arts Center included artifacts—cups, dresses, tables, chairs—loaned to Warner from prior residents of the same farm places.
In an antique store in West Point, Warner discovered the Atlas of Cuming County from 1919 with plat map plates that reflect claims made under the Homestead Act. Here, she found the history of Nebraska farmland mapped out in acreage, deepening her understanding of the landscape and its history. Her photographs became ever more urgent documents of vanishing boundaries and dwindling places.
This Place, These People was published by Columbia University Press, November 2013. Juxtaposed with Warner’s photographs of disappearing farm places are voices of Nebraska farm people, lovingly recorded and edited by sociologist David Stark.The cadences and tough-minded humor of Nebraskan voices reflect the moods and memories evoked by the photographs. His afterword grounds the project in the historical relationship between people and their land, and links Warner’s work to her progenitors—Charles Van Schaick, Solomon Butcher, Edward Steichen, and Wright Morris.