Lives of Tradition

The Lives of Tradition project began in 1990 when I traveled and photographed rural landscapes in the Midwest and in Nebraska, where I grew up. Following that trip, looking over the images made, there emerged an insistent desire to go back to my roots in Nebraska and learn more about the lives being lived there, and how they have both changed and remained the same over the past century.

While it was the landscape that first drew my attention, it was the people living there who became my focus. I came to view rural scenes as reflective portraits of the lives of people, and portraits of people became statements of a way of life.

Finding and recording people who are living and working in characteristic ways that have changed little since the settling of the heartland of this country became a quest which brought me to the photographic study of farmers and ranchers and small rural communities where people are living “lives of tradition.” It was engaging to find people with lives grounded in tradition, their vitality bolstered by heritage.

Many of these lifestyles are shrinking in numbers. How long their traditional ways will continue is uncertain, but the spirit I found among these people suggests many will continue.

I traveled in my pickup camper, visiting previous and new locations, following leads, and networking to find new people and places where traditions are sustained. I photographed several months each spring for 17 years. The rest of each year was spent working with new the negatives, making prints, corresponding with new leads and making preparations for going on the road again.