The skyscrapers of the plains. The sentinels of the prairies. Those are the phrases used to describe grain elevators. At least I think they are, unless I managed to get the words wrong.
As I ponder them, I think the phrases are wrong. The order is reversed. The largest elevators are located not in Kansas or Colorado but in major Eastern cities where the harvests are consolidated and stored for later shipment. I admit that elevators, even those smallish ones made of galvanized steel, are visible for miles, but only a rube would compare them to the Sears Tower or even the Flatiron Building. What should have been said is “the skyscrapers of the plains are elevators, the sentinels are grain silos.”
Regardless of my grammatical meanderings, I like to photograph them. There’s a sort of grandeur and interest in their structure that appeals to me. After I’d written this post and scheduled it for publication, I learned that I was not the only photographer struck by the geometry of an elevator. John Vachon wrote:
One morning I photographed a grain elevator: pure sun-brushed silo columns of cement rising from behind a CB&Q freight car. The genius of Walker Evans and Charles Sheeler welded into one supreme photographic statement, I told myself. Then it occurred to me that it was I who was looking at the grain elevator. For the past year I had been sedulously aping the masters. And in Omaha I realized that I had developed my own style with the camera. I knew that I would photograph only what pleased me or astonished my eye, and only in the way I saw it.
I suppose this is as close as I’ll ever get to shooting landscapes.