“North Dakota Unforgettable”
By Chuck Haney
Chuck Haney’s color photographs provide a memorable portrait of an often-neglected landscape in “North Dakota Unforgettable,” a finalist in this year’s High Plains Book Awards’ art and photography category.
Haney is well-established in the coffee table and calendar nature photography genre, with volumes dedicated to Montana, Glacier National Park and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park badlands in North Dakota, the location of many images in the current volume. Haney is particularly fond of, and good at, wildlife photography and the animal and bird images in “North Dakota Unforgettable” are, well, unforgettable. Other favorite subjects include river fogbanks, sunrises and sunsets and, in a nod to North Dakota’s agricultural heritage, grain elevators. Haney also acknowledges such state idiosyncrasies as a revered albino bison, the Medora Musical, and the tendency to scatter whimsically monumental large animal sculptures along highways. His image of giant roadside pheasants is especially effective, the family of avian behemoths framed by their “natural habitat”: a lonely prairie highway with a single car approaching.
At times, the book’s production seems a bit rushed. As with many similar collections, the high-gloss paper tends to eliminate subtleties of color visible in the same or similar images on the photographer’s web site. The photographs are presented rather randomly, with no attempt to integrate them into an overall context; there’s little in the way of a narrative journey through the state’s regions. Captions are sometimes substituted for actual images, either because the photographer would rather not dwell on subjects like the Bakken oil boom, represented here by a brief mention beside a pastoral winter scene near Williston, or simply because the photographer didn’t take the time to photograph them; a caption notes the indoor Ferris wheel in Fargo as a city landmark, but it does not appear in the general street scene the caption describes. Similarly the book tells about, but does not show, the monument near Rugby signifying the continent’s geographic center.
Despite its flaws and limitations, “North Dakota Unforgettable” turns the eye and lens of a talented and skilled photographer toward well-chosen subjects. North Dakota residents will welcome it as a tribute to the state’s badlands, towns and grain fields. For those less familiar with the state, the book presents an attractive collection of intimate wildlife portraits and unusual cultural landmarks placed alongside wide-open Great Plains landscapes. Often, as Haney says in his foreword, North Dakota may be neglected by motorists crossing its flat expanses on the interstate. Perhaps after taking in Haney’s images, such preoccupied drivers will stop next time to appreciate a vast field of sunflowers or a herd of bison crossing the Little Missouri.