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Alexander Newby and Tyler Dunning
Approaching the Prairie with Empty Eyes: Photo Stories

Photographer Alexander Newby and writer/storyteller Tyler Dunning visited American Prairie Reserve this summer and have been sharing their experiences on Instagram in a 5-post series. See their travels unfold in the photos and captions below. According to Alexander:

Tyler and I tried to approach the prairie with empty eyes, so the prairie could fill them with who she is. The following posts are what the prairie called us to reflect upon.

And from Tyler:

A month ago, I traveled with my dear friend and photographer Alex Newby (@tearoadtiger) to the American Prairie Reserve (@americanprairie) in an attempt to not only further understand our motherland of Montana, but to reconnect with a landscape often overlooked and threatened by the ever-increasing demands of industry, energy, and civilization. The following posts will examine some of the questions we asked and the answers we found.​

 

In June I road-tripped with the stunning Tyler Dunning (@TylerDunning), local writer, Belgradian, and fellow vagabond heart to the American Prairie Reserve. (@americanprairie) Our goal was to shed the careless definitions society has saddled the prairie with and relearn her by connecting to her. Today, as has been the case since US western expansion began, the prairie is ogled with eyes seeking riches, Big Energy eyes, entrepreneurial eyes, industrial eyes. Tyler and I tried to approach the prairie with empty eyes, so the prairie could fill them with who she is. The following posts are what the prairie called us to reflect upon. Why Travel to the Prairie? (Post 1/5) A burning, visceral desire to know this place under the Big Sky enchanted my spirit upon return from one of many prolonged international sojourns. Growing up in Belgrade, Montana, I was baptised into the West. The historic personalities I grew reading about “made” this West; they then rode off into the mythic sunset, leaving me, as I was raised to believe, the responsibility to carry that pioneer mandate forward. As I reflected on my place in Montana, the prairie began to call me with her siren song. Her alluring strain stoked my inner desire to know by experience the stretches of land north of the Mighty Missouri. And as desire bloomed within, I had to admit to myself, that I hardly understood who this prairie is, and my pioneer mandate to “conquer the wilderness” seems misbegotten. Tyler Dunning (@TylerDunning): Being a Montanan means many things to many people, and, depending on where you live and where you grew up, you affiliate with different landscapes. I'm a mountain kid, and, as such, I've drawn local pride from the most obvious places: the spine of the Rockies, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone. But the prairie--the prairie holds a mystique to me as if a foreign land. And the majority of my state IS prairie. So to understand my home, I must understand this place--a place, though seemingly simple, but not easily discerned. And to know the land, you must be on the land (or, as Edward Abbey suggests, crawling across it, on hands and knees, through thornbush and cactus, bloody)

A photo posted by Alex Newby (@tearoadtiger) on


What is Prairie? (Post 2/5) (@americanprairie) Prairie is possibly the least utilized terrestrial metaphor in the English language. The desert is desolate. The sea, vast. Mountains, monumental. But the prairie? The prairie is the absence of language. It is felt. smelt. Mixed grasses on the wind. A lightning animated atmosphere. A sea of grass. A mountain leveled. A struggle, the desert. There are genocides buried in these soils, species absent at role call. Yet, things flourish. Things die. A place to contemplate. Roots to grow. But not like the desert. Not like the sea. Not like the mountains. The prairie is all of these things. It is none of these things. It is memory loss to our lexicon. - Tyler Dunning (@TylerDunning) What isn’t Prairie? Conventional knowledge and the pages of history both explain away the prairie as wasteland, desert, useless, empty. True? The written word, (on paper pages or virtual), is so revered by humans with a western worldview, that we rarely question the conclusions drawn in those words. In labelling it a wasteland, did we justify what we believed was our God given right to conquer the wilderness? If Creator declared the prairie good upon creating it, are we then improving it with our plans to make it profitable and productive? The gifts of the prairie cannot be found in wasteland. - Alex Newby

A photo posted by Alex Newby (@tearoadtiger) on


Fear: (Post 3/5) (@americanprairie) Don’t be fooled, this isn’t the relatively controlled, roadside safety of Yellowstone. A close encounter with these bearded lords of the prairie, these bellowing, surly-horned three-quarter-ton locomotives, forces this shaky human on a bike to consider how matter of factly these shaggy beasts can extinguish you NOW. Wild scares me, even while it thrills my heart. And, as a society, wild scares us, it haunts our dreams, for we are fearful of what is beyond our control. No, the prairie will not be controlled; if we try, we will succeed only in its destruction. The mortal danger of the prairie, embodied in bison, lightening, rattle snakes and distance from civilisation is the same danger that exhilarates our mortal souls when we survive, when we thrive in a place beyond human control. - Alex Newby I can't stop looking to the sky, my neck craned and attention away from the more imminent threats: bison, rattlesnakes. Overcast and breaking, shifting with the gale, I do not understand this sky. Home, in the valley, beneath the Bridgers, I understand hydrologic cycles. Not here. My sunglasses don't help, darkening the darker hues. We're halfway along the Box Elder Crossing, on bikes, and I'm convinced we're gonna die. Lightning, a goring, venom. That damn sky. But the only thing that strikes us is a humbling sense of vulnerability. And we are alive. - Tyler Dunning (@TylerDunning)

A photo posted by Alex Newby (@tearoadtiger) on


Flora (Post 4/5) Tyler Dunning: Pollinators keep the planet alive, moving assertively from one flower to the next, instigating fundamental growth and change. Coming to the prairie, I feel like we've entered a flower, drawn by the allure of the land, and have left with pollen on our legs. Fulfilling our own agendas, we germinate things we don't understand. Because travel changes us. Triggers growth. Leads to wildflowers in bloom. Alex Newby (@tearoadtiger): A verdant treasure trove of wealth is the prairie; even a careless glance reveals innumerable species of grass, herb, plant and flower. The medicinal powers cached within root, stalk, leaf and blossom is known only to the *Real People who from centuries past, call this land home. Echinacea, (pictured above), boosts the human immune system, fending off sickness like a boss. The spiritual and ecological value contained in the American prairie supersedes any poor profit from extraction or development of this land that germinates such raiments of splendour. *Real People is the term most Native American peoples use to refer to themselves. Photo by @tearoadtiger

A photo posted by Tyler Dunning (@tylerdunning) on


Solitude (5/5) Tyler Dunning: We got to the Enrico Center late, eleven, and I was stressed over the thought of a rude arrival. But the place was lively, with young scientists moving to and fro, watching a storm from the wrap-around porch. We joined and let the late night usher in an early morning. There is heightened camaraderie in these places of solitude, places where you can somehow be alone together. Alex Newby (@tearoadtiger): Before me and behind, the prairie stretches her undulating expanse horizon wide; under the caress of our solar star’s illuminating rays, the aromatic wind intoxicates my senses with the scent of sweetgrass, the buffeting wind tickles my ears, singing lonely. The boundlessness of this place summons me alone with myself, even in company. And when I venture there, the cleansing wind carries away my pretense, my judgement, my unjustice. Mulling the minuteness of my existence in the vast mystery of the Northern prairie, I can forgive myself my mistakes, and remember I am but dust. I can live with myself again. Photo by @tearoadtiger. Look closely and you can spot me in this one.

A photo posted by Tyler Dunning (@tylerdunning) on



Love these images and stories? Here's more information:

Alexander Newby, Tearoadtiger Photography: Instagram   Email   Website
Tyler Dunning: Instagram   Email   Website