The photographs that appear in “The Plainsman” (July 1999) are not available online. Back issues of this edition are available from Back Issues.
PETER BROWN MAY HAVE BEEN BORN in New England, but he has the soul of a plainsman. His photographic fixation on the Great Plains began during childhood when, at his family’s summer home in Massachusetts, he discovered the vista from a hill overlooking an apple orchard. “It seemed to go on forever,” recalls the 51-year-old photographer. “It was a very Western view. So I’ve been responding to that sense of space since I was a little kid.” Later his family moved to California, but trekked back across the country to the East Coast every year for summer vacation. “When you make that trip, you can’t miss the Great Plains,” Brown says dryly. “That intensified my fascination.”
A longtime resident of Houston, Brown maintains a studio there and also teaches and writes about photography. In 1985 he decided to try to capture the grandeur of the plains on film. Since then he has loaded up his large-format camera and hit the road four or five times a year, logging thousands of miles in Texas and nine other states. The project produced a 1999 Eisie award—the Oscar of photography, named for Alfred Eisenstaedt—and a just-published portfolio, On the Plains (DoubleTake Books). The 87 pictures in it range from portraits of just plains folks to vignettes of small towns to almost dizzying panoramas of land and sky. As these Texas images confirm, that vastness is the power of the plains. So much wide-open space can be overwhelming to newcomers, Brown notes, but he adds that, once accustomed to it, visitors will find the Great Plains region “as beautiful as any mountain range or ocean, and in its detail as intimate as a back yard.”