Marking the Land
Jim Dow in North Dakota
Distributed for Columbia College Chicago Press
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.
“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.”