In 1994, after thirty-three years, Paula Chamlee returned home to photograph and write about the farm where she grew up on the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle, a farm where her parents, then in their late eighties, still farmed their 1,100 acres all by themselves. With intensity and insight, she has created a work of extraordinary depth and cultural significance. This emotionally charged and aesthetically powerful document provides an intimate look at her home place and reveals a way of life and value system that are quickly vanishing.
Chamlee’s writing in the introduction sets her photographs in the context of Texas history and her family heritage. In addition, her extensive “Notes on the Photographs” provides information and insights about the pictures and evokes the flavor of farm life in the twentieth century. In the Foreword, George F. Thompson meditates on the profound place that rural life, especially the family farm, still holds in the nation’s collective imagination and memory. The combination of photographs and writing in High Plains Farm creates a book that will find a place of enduring value and significance not only in Texas art and history, but also in the archives of American art and cultural studies.
From the Foreword by George F. Thompson
The photographs in this remarkable book are full of information about who we are as a people and who we are as a nation. . . . Paula Chamlee’s vision extends far beyond the High Plains life of a small farm in Texas; there is an implied appreciation for the landscapes of rural America and the ideals they represent. . . . She directs her eye, heart, and soul toward her home place, and that love of place shines through with each photograph’s beauty, grace, and composition. . . . She conveys to us through the magic and integrity of photography, that truth can be found in beauty and that beauty and knowledge can be found in common places. . . . With this book Paula Chamlee has given us a great gift that can be shared with future generations.
“I know of no finer evocation of life and land on the Great Plains than Chamlee’s book. It belongs alongside the works of Willa Cather.” — George F. Thompson, President, Center for American Places
“Paula Chamlee knows her landscapes. But, oh, these photographs are different, for these are landscapes of the human heart. And, as such, they sweep from the inner soul to the infinite horizon, delineating the terrain of our memories, the range of our passions, and the expanse of our mortality. Her series remains simultaneouly epic in its vision and intimate in its humanity. Two things the Texan understands are family and land—and especially how they combine to create that unique sensibility we call home. Thanks for going home again, Paula. And for leaving the gate open for us to follow along.” — Roy Flukinger, Senior Curator of Photography and Film, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin
“Paula Chamlee’s journey home to her parents’ High Plains Farm could have no better transport than her camera. Here is a visual poem about lean, well kempt emotions, a sense of place, and a complementary love for the descriptive eloquence of photography. Just as her mind’s eye is filled with images of experiences from the past, so too is her photographic eye guided by experiences in the present. The perception of one is the release of the other and from this union has grown Chamlee’s very personal vision of unadorned reality.” — James L. Enyeart, Anne and John Marion Professor of Photographic Arts, and Director, Marion Center, The College of Santa Fe
“. . . an absolutely remarkable book. . . . Chamlee’s photographs in this book are an amazing collection of farm life in the U.S. today–and yesterday. The stark landscape of the Texas Panhandle is so beautifully captured, we doubt if another book of such a subject can ever be duplicated.” — John Austin, Books of the Week
“In these photographs Chamlee captures the commonplace on a small farm and somehow makes it universal. . . . High Plains Farm is one of those impossible to describe treasures that invites you to look again, and again, and again.” — Judyth Rigler, Texas Books
“I was reminded of God’s Country and My People by Wright Morris, but in going back to that book, I found the tone to be unexpectedly nostalgic. Chamlee’s wonderful photographs are much more incisive.” — Mary Sarber, El Paso Herald–Post
“High Plains Farm is a remarkable book. This book is a treasure that many people can appreciate, for it captures the extraordinary energy and spirit of a couple who represent the best in rural American values.” — Jerry Linecum, Herald–Democrat
Paula Chamlee returned to college in the 1980s majoring in the visual arts to finish a degree she had begun in the 1960s in the performing arts. She earned a B.F.A. in painting in 1988. During that year, she discovered photography and quickly found direct involvement with the world outside the studio to be irresistible. Since 1988 she has traveled extensively, making photographs both in the United States and abroad. Chamlee has been the recipient of several grants, including a major grant from the Leeway Foundation for “Excellence in Photography.” Her photographs are in numerous collections, both public and private in the United States and abroad. She is collected in nearly forty museums in the United States, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, and Library of Congress. She has taught workshops in photography in the United States, Austria, Germany, Tuscany, England, France, Iceland, and Australia. Her seventh monograph was published in the fall of 2015.
George F. Thompson is President of the Center for American Places in Harrisonburg, Virginia. His most recent book is Landscapes in America, and he is founder and director of numerous book series, including Creating the North American Landscape and The Road and American Culture.