BY Luc Sante in One Takes | 01 JUN 12
Featured in
Issue 148

Picture Piece: Gering, Nebraska

Luc Sante considers a postcard from Gering, Nebraska

BY Luc Sante in One Takes | 01 JUN 12

Photographic postcard from Gering, Nebraska, c. 1910

This photographic postcard from around 1910, found last summer in a used-furniture store in Gering, in the Nebraska panhandle – just a few miles from where the picture was taken – is both simple and not. On the one hand, it shows what are probably after- effects of a tornado: scattered wreckage and a sign noting the location of the county abstractor, an official who maintains records of land titles. On the other hand, it appears to be an example of formal abstraction, made at a time and in a place where you would hardly expect such a thing.

So it was probably an accident, made by an amateur aiming for a result different from the outcome. But if that was the case, why is the picture neatly divided into thirds? Why is the right edge of the sign aligned with that of the brick wall? Why is the top of the sign positioned to form a kind of wave with the two shed roofs? Why does the sign take up almost exactly the same space as the dark shed next to it, which in turn is echoed by the shed on the right? And what might the photographer have been aiming for otherwise in this bleak scene? What could be abstracter?

lives in upstate New York, USA. His latest book is Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard, 1905–1930 (Verse Chorus Press, 2009).