2005 Lange-Taylor Prize: Kent Haruf and Peter Brown, "High Plains"

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 - 3:00pm

Kent Haruf

Peter Brown

The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University has awarded the fifteenth Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize to photographer Peter Brown and writer Kent Haruf.

Brown and Haruf’s project, “High Plains,” will document “the people, land, and small towns of the High Plains: a part of the country that dips eastward from the Rockies and rolls south from Saskatchewan and Alberta to the flatlands of the Llano Estacado of the Texas Panhandle. It is elevated land that originally was short-grass prairie and home to a wide variety of animals and people. Now it primarily supports ranching and agriculture and its population has dwindled. Our work will take place mostly in the central High Plains—the Sand Hills of Nebraska, south to southern Colorado.” They write, “Our interest in this part of the world is contemporary but also includes its history and a mix of stories that have passed down over the years, stories that resonate with the land in interesting ways.” Brown's photographs and Haruf's writing will record “moments that describe the beauty, power, tragedy, and cultural complexity of the place itself: the way the land has been used, the way that people have lived on it, and the visual record that has been left behind."

Their collaboration will result in short prose pieces and large-format color photographs that will provide “a new description of this part of world.” They “will travel together, looking for photographs, stories, landscapes, and people, and we will meet frequently over the next year or so, to show work and to talk about how images and words might work best together. . . . We know we need to confound expectation. We each believe that the other’s work needs to stand alone, but we also believe that a new dimension will be discovered in this visual/verbal dialogue.”

“I do emphatically think of these little pieces I’m writing as somehow circulating around and in the wonderful photos Peter Brown takes of the country—as if these stories and sketches are part of the very dirt and air he gets in the pictures,” writes Haruf about the stories he’s composing for the project. Of the photography, Brown writes, “As for me, Kent’s writing has already affected the way I think about the area, but I intend to photograph out of my own sense of the place, opened I hope to new discoveries, and carrying with me a knowledge of Kent’s past work and the short pieces he’s already written.”

In 2003, Haruf and Brown worked together on a three-day project in Yuma, Colorado, where they discovered they "had quite a bit in common beyond a mutual admiration of each other’s work." As they put it, "Among other things, we are both sons of ministers, we see eye-to-eye politically, our taste in literature runs along the same lines, and our respect for the people of the Plains, their history and the beauty of an aesthetically neglected part of the world pulls us together."

Peter Brown was named Photographer/Educator of the Year by the Houston Center of Photography in 2004. He has also received an Alfred Eisenstadt Award, an Imogene Cunningham Award, a Carnegie Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Brown’s work is held in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Menil Collection, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the J. Paul Getty Museum; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, among other institutions. His monograph, On the Plains, was published by Norton/Center for Documentary Studies (1999).

Kent Haruf is the author of The Tie That Binds; Where You Once Belonged; Plainsong, a finalist for the National Book Award in 1999; and Eventide (2004). He has received a Whiting Foundation Award, the Marie Thomas Award in Fiction, and a PEN/Hemingway Foundation Special Citation. His stories and essays have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Grand Street, Prairie Schooner, Gettysburg Review, and the New York Times.