Marking the Land: Jim Dow in North Dakota

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The demanding frontier life of My Ántonia or Little House on the Prairie may be long gone, but the idyllic small town still exists as a cherished icon of American community life. Yet sprawl and urban density, rather than small towns and farms, are the predominant features of our modern society, agribusiness and other commercial forces have rapidly taken over family farms and ranches, and even the open spaces we think of as natural retreats only retain the barest façade of their former frontier austerity. The fading communities, social upheaval, and enduring heritage of the Northern Plains are the subject of Jim Dow’s Marking the Land, a stirring photographic tribute to the complex and unyielding landscape of North Dakota.

Jim Dow began making pilgrimages to this remote territory in 1981 and, with a commission from the North Dakota Museum of Art, he took photographs of the passing human presence on the land. The simple, stolid pieces of architecture carved out against the Dakota skies—whether the local schoolhouse, car wash, prison, homes, hunting lodge, or churches—evoke in their spare lines and weather-battered frames the stoic and toughened spirit of the people within their walls. Folk art is also an integral part of the landscape in Dow’s visual study, and he examines the subtle evolution of local craftsmanship from homemade sculptures, murals, and carvings to carefully crafted pieces aimed at tourists. Anchoring all of these explorations is the raw and striking landscape of the North Dakota plains.

Marking the Land is a moving reflection by a leading American photographer on the state of the Northern Plains today, forcing us all to rethink our conceptions of America’s forgotten frontier.

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Editorial Reviews

Emmet Gowins
“Jim Dow’s photographs of North Dakota are at the heart of a very important life’s work in photography, and these images eloquently summarize a deeply imaginative people and an astonishing landscape nearly invisible from our two coasts. Marking the Land is a work of grandeur and intimacy, and it is the kind of work that can truly change what we know and what we feel.”—Emmet Gowin, Princeton University
American Photo - Russell Hart
"There is a temptation to describe Jim Dow as a latter-day Walker Evans, even though most of Dow's work is in color. . . . But while Evans insisted to the point of arrogance that his work, despite its descriptive nature, was the highest art, Dow has no such pretension. His images are artful, to be sure, but they are less about the artist and more about the people who create the things depicted. Despite their precisionism, they are far more human than Evans's pictures. . . . The totality of Dow's new monograph, Marking the Land: Jim Dow in North Dakota, makes it clear that the photographer's images are not judgment-free records of weathered roadside attractions. The best of them quietly critique our attitudes toward the particular landscapes we inhabit. . . . Dow's timeworn building facades have a plainness that suits the prairie's nondescript topography and camouflages the dense decor of their interiors, which are crammed full as if to nullify the starkness of North Dakota's great outdoors."—American Photo
Great Plains Quarterly - Robert Silberman
"Like Walker Evans . . . Dow captures the vitality, the humor, and the poetry of folk art and vernacular architecture. . . . A selective but deeply satisfying portrait of the Northern Plains."
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Jim Dow teaches photography, the history of photography, and contemporary art at Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the North Dakota Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, George Eastman House, J. Paul Getty Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Museum of Modern Art, among others.

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Table of Contents

In North Dakota, Jim Dow
He Came to Cherish Them, Laurel Reuter
Views of North Dakota
Marking the Land
Artists and the Workplace
The People and their Ingenuity
The Seasons
Religious Life
Dreaming and Redemption
Notes on the Plates
Author's Acknowledgments
Map of North Dakota and Northern South Dakota
Map of Central and Northern Minnesota
About the Author and the Editor

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