Though His Heart Feared

Most of us have seen the photography of Solomon D. Butcher. His most famous piece depicts a family seated outside of their sod house, a table with fresh cut watermelon amongst them. A cow is on the roof.

I had seen it, and several others, but had not really placed it in history or attached it to any specific name. While we were at Scotts Bluff, however, I came across the book ‘Solomon D. Butcher: Photographing the American Dream’.

Nearly every photo is just that – a family with their belongings outside of their small house. This clearly satisfies my love for Theme and Variations. Most of it was shot in the 1880s, as Nebraska populated itself with those from the east. But even his photos from the early 1900s fall into this same idea. The houses are nicer, and there’s even a random automobile here and there, but the premise is the same – here we are, this is us.

It’s sort of curious then that the photo I’m sharing now reminded me of Butcher’s work (minus the people, so, admittedly, nothing like his work at all). But the look and feel and sod house are the same. There’s even some livestock wandering around.

When I took the photo, I still had no idea who Solomon D. Butcher was. I wasn’t thinking of the few photos of his that I knew. In actuality, we were driving and I saw this scene out the passenger window. I stopped the car, didn’t even bother to get out, rolled down Sarah’s window, grabbed the blue plastic Savoy, tried to level it somewhat, and snapped the shot.

An hour later, we were in the visitors center of Scotts Bluff National Monument, and I saw Butcher’s book. Even then, however, I didn’t connect my little photo with his. It wasn’t until I developed it and bought the book that I linked the two.

Even so, this just slightly reminds me of Butcher. It reminds me how different his work is, how honest and actual it is. He captured a moment in history, and the history of families, land, housing. I’m just trying to capture it back through the strange combination of 1950s cameras shooting 1960s film.

So if you happen to see Solomon D. Butcher’s book, pick it up.

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‘Though His Heart Feared’

Camera: Imperial Savoy (c1956)
Film: Ilford Selochrome (x-10/1968)
Process: HC-110; 1+100; 60min

Near Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

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