Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 4, Fall 2008, pp. 339-40.
It may not take special powers of observation to notice the sixty-ton concrete bison next to the interstate on the outskirts of Jamestown, North Dakota. But knowing how to photograph such a subject well demands skill-and Jim Dow has what it takes. Discovering the beauty of a giant coal-mining shovel or the brushwork pattern behind a stenciled "Going Out of Business" notice does require a sharp eye, and he has that, too. Originally invited by Laurel Reuter of the North Dakota Museum of Art to photograph folk art in the landscape in the early 1980s, Dow, during visits in 2000 and after, had carte blanche to photograph whatever he pleased and even to make cross-border raids into Minnesota and South Dakota.
Like Walker Evans in American Photographs (1938), Dow captures the vitality, the humor, and the poetry of folk art and vernacular architecture, beginning with a haunting nighttime shot of a humble concrete block car wash on the book's front cover. Also like Evans, Dow usually hides his artfulness. One exception is a four-part panorama of a minor league baseball game. Dow has become known for his ballpark photographs, and this example, infused with light, shows why.