Measure of Emptiness
Measure of Emptiness is a meditation on the vast spaces of the Great Plains, the heartland of American agricultural productivity, and the centrality of the grain elevator to its social, cultural and symbolic life. In photographs made between 1972 and 1977 with the support of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment of Art, Frank Gohlke traveled back and forth through the central tier of states from his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to the Texas Panhandle, seeking an answer to the puzzle of the grain elevators’ extraordinary power as architecture in a landscape whose primary dramas were in the sky.
“In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is,” said Gertrude Stein. The Great Plains are characterized by this spaciousness, and by the presence of windowless, rumbling, enormous grain elevators, rising above the steeples of churches to announce the presence of the town and to explain, in great measure, the lives of and livelihoods of its inhabitants. Why did their builders choose that particular form to fulfill and practical necessity? And does the experience of great emptiness shape what people think, feel and do?