Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

EVANS, TERRY (b. 1944)

Terry H. Evans has been photographing the landscape and people of the Plains for much of her adult life. She lived in Salina, Kansas, for twenty-six years before moving to Chicago, where she currently resides. Best known for her photographs of the prairie in both its pristine and its altered states, she continues to develop, expanding the geographic and aesthetic parameters of her art.

Evans was born on August 30, 1944, in Kansas City, Missouri. From the age of four she loved to draw and paint, and she was encouraged in these interests by her parents, Norman and Dale Holt, who had a photography studio in Kansas City for many years. Evans completed a bachelor of fine arts degree in drawing and painting at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, but not until her last semester in college did she begin to take photographs. At that time she had the rare opportunity to photograph presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy during his 1968 visit to the campus. From this experience Evans perceived the extraordinary access that photography gives viewers to special situations. She never had a formal course in photography and cites her father as her main teacher. The work of Charles Harbutt and James Enyeart was also influential.

In her first decade as a photographer, Evans concentrated on exploring the life conditions of poor people, farm people, her own family, and the inhabitants of her hometown in Kansas. In the years since, her work has been shaped mainly by the landscape of the Plains, an environment characterized by unexpected beauty and shaped by often overwhelming natural forces and human activity. In building her understanding of this complex environment, Evans has employed varied approaches that range from close-ups of diverse prairie plant and animal life, including root systems of grasses, to vistas framed at ground level, to stunning aerial views.

Within Evans's aerial photographs, which capture current conditions of the Plains landscape, the viewer can also catch sight of historic alterations of the land. These include paths worn by animal movements, indentations made by long-abandoned dwellings, patterns wrought by agriculture and military shooting ranges, and many more irregular forms and lines made by forces of nature. The conjunctions of such telling details in her aerial views highlight relationships between the past and present and between nature and humans, sometimes resulting in striking abstract designs. Believing that a single image can never su.ce to represent her subject, Evans makes images of forms and visual rhythms that stretch to the edges of and sometimes beyond the frame in both her aerial and other scenes. For example, Chase County, South of Matfield Green, Kansas, 1993, presents a panoramic view of a prairie landscape in three images that are not strictly continuous yet appear harmoniously connected: late afternoon sunlight burnishes stands of Indian grass in the foreground; across all three panels autumnal light throws the land behind the grasses into a deep horizontal shadow; the same light also illuminates the gentle golden rise of land in the far distance; contrasting bands of shadow and light unify the three panels and reinforce the horizontal character of the grassland, which is bereft of human presence and nearly reduced to essentials that verge on the abstract. Evans takes care, however, to include details such as the slightly mounded landforms in the background of the frame on the far right, details tied inextricably to the land's subtle beauty.

Evans's photography has been exhibited widely. Recently, the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History organized In Place of Prairie, a nationally touring solo exhibition of her work. Her books are Prairie: Images of Land and Sky (1986), Disarming the Prairie (1998), and The Inhabited Prairie (1998). Her works are held in, among others, the National Museum of American Art, Washington DC; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Chicago Art Institute; the San Francisco Museum of Art; the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska–Lincoln; and the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas at Lawrence. She received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 1996. Recently, Evans has been making a photographic study of Matfield Green and is completing an aerial survey of the prairie from Canada to Texas. Evans distinguishes herself as a photographer by the sheer volume of outstanding images she has made that collectively embrace a photographic vision of Plains landscape that is extraordinarily and appropriately broad.

Martha H. Kennedy Library of Congress

Brown, Turner, and Elaine Partnow, eds. Macmillan Biographical Encyclopedia of Photographic Artists and Innovators. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1983.

Kinsey, Joni L. Plain Pictures: Images of the American Prairie. Washington DC: Published for the University of Iowa Museum of Art by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996.

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