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[Detail] The David Hilton family near Weissert, Nebraska. 1887.

Themes in Literature | Editing the Oblinger Letters | Creative Writing | The Horizon in Photographs of the Great Plains | Collage

The Horizon in Photographs of the Great Plains

The horizon—the horizontal line forming the boundary between earth and sky—is often a critical element of artistic compositions, whether drawn, painted, or photographed. In images of the Great Plains, the horizon is often particularly important because the land is generally flat and the horizon therefore uninterrupted, suggesting great space.

A rule of composition commonly taught to young artists and photographers today is called the Rule of Thirds. Using the Rule of Thirds, an image is divided into thirds vertically and horizontally, creating a tic-tac-toe grid on the image. According to the Rule of Thirds, important objects should be placed at the intersections of the grid; also according to this rule, the horizon should be either at either the one-third or two-thirds line on the grid (rather than in the center).

Locate ten of Solomon Butcher's photographs of the Great Plains. Keywords that will produce a large number of photographs without many of the Oblinger family letters mixed in are Custer County, post office, and sod house. Examine closely the ten photographs you have selected, answering the questions below in your analysis.

  • In how many of the photographs is the horizon visible?
  • What impact does showing the horizon have on the viewer of the photograph?
  • In how many of the photographs is the horizon placed according to the Rule of Thirds? Do you find those photographs more aesthetically pleasing? Why or why not?
  • Try cropping parts of the photographs by placing a white piece of paper over the top, bottom, or sides of the photographs. Does cropping change the attractiveness of the photographs? The content or meaning of the photographs?
  • Do you think Solomon Butcher was more concerned about the artistic quality of his photographs or the information they conveyed? Explain your answer.
  • To extend this activity, examine the depiction of the horizon in paintings and photographs by searching the Internet for works by such painters as Grant Wood, Robert Sudlow, and Keith Jacobshagen or by examining the photographs of the Great Plains in America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945.