Photo Exhibition Snaps Images of Nebraska's History

Jan. 28, 2017, 8 a.m. ·

The new Bridges photo exhibition includes images from all 93 counties in Nebraska.

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A new photo exhibition that includes images from across the state is now open in Lincoln. It will travel across Nebraska as part of the state's 150th birthday celebration.

If you jumped in your car and tried to visit all 93 counties in Nebraska, it would probably take you a while. It’s a big state with a lot of history and unique places that aren’t always easy to find.

As part of Nebraska’s Sesquicentennial celebration, the Hildegard Center for the Arts in Lincoln is trying to make those places more accessible. It’s sponsoring a new photo exhibition that includes images from each one of those counties.

The snapshots include historical places, people and landscapes.

Organizers put out a call in 2015 for photographers across the state to take pictures that had meaning to them and historical significance to Nebraska.

“The call was the capture those images, those places, those hidden treasures that were important to the photographer or perhaps maybe gave an insight into the culture of their county or just something that was very special to the photographers themselves,” Hildegard Center president and co-founder Kim Einspahr said.

There were more than 800 photo submissions from across the state. Judges had to pick one winning photo from every county and those pictures are now part of the exhibition titled “Bridges-Sharing our Past to Enrich the Future”.

The images and short written summaries are displayed at the Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln through March 25th.

“It was urban, agriculture. It was solitude. It was hustle-bustle,” said Cathy Harrington, who led the photo project.

“It was showing families. It showed some military cemeteries. We got such a cross-section. Traditions, cultures all showed-up.”

Photographer Gary Andrews, who lives in Lincoln, is a bit shy as he stands in front of his winning image, a nighttime picture of a statue at the state capitol. It’s foggy and the ground is wet, creating an eerie, mysterious scene. Another one of his photos was the winning submission for Douglas County. He didn’t even intend to enter the contest.

“My wife put my pictures forward actually. So, she didn’t tell me until later that she put two of my pictures out,” Andrews said.

The photo exhibition is part of a year of events celebrating the state’s 150th anniversary. It’s a way to showcase places and moments across the state.

“Photography captures that in a way that a lot of other mediums don’t always do,” Nebraska 150 executive director Regan Anson said.

“It’s a moment in time and the 150 is also a moment in time where we just stop and take a minute and thing about how far our state has come over the last 150 years.”

Some of the photographers made the project into an adventure.

Mike McCoy and his wife, artist Liz Shea-McCoy, submitted more than 20 photos from different counties and their images were winners for 13 counties. The couple spent more than two weeks on back roads in their quest to capture slices of Nebraska’s history.

“You can’t see these sights going on I-80. The I-80 corridor is just a lot of corn and wheat and everything else, but you don’t get to see the small structures, the historical things that we found so fascinating,” said McCoy.

Herb Thompson, a postal worker from Papillion, went all over Sarpy County in his efforts to find photos for the exhibition. His picture of the inside of an old schoolhouse was a winner.

“I photographed everything that I could find on the historical register for Sarpy County, but I’m so glad that they chose the image, because it is going to travel for the rest of the year,” said Thompson.

“This is an important event. 150 years statehood. This is pretty big.”

Four judges, including a contributor from National Geographic, sorted through the photo submissions. They had to pick a winner from each of the state’s 93 counties.

George Tuck, a professor emeritus of photography and graphics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was impressed with the quality and variety of the photos, especially the ones that used the state’s unique sunlight.

“The ones that were really, really exceptional had phenomenal appreciation for the light. That was one of the things that came through on quite a few of the images,” said Tuck.

“We’ve got great sunrises and sunsets and the times of days are what made the pictures in a lot of sense.”

The traveling photo exhibition will also visit Seward, North Platte, Norfolk and Alliance throughout this year and will end at the Durham Museum in Omaha in early 2018.