So few of us do, says Drake Hokanson. We run from meeting to meeting in our busy daily work schedules. We drive from place to place and seldom take time to talk to a stranger or notice the texture of a wheat field or even just look at the sky.
Hokanson is on a quiet crusade, of sorts, to change that.
"We are so accustomed to the world we live in," says the 46-year-old photographer and Winona State University mass communications professor. "Our lives have become very compartmentalized. Very few people ever get to go exploring."
Not so for Hokanson, who was born in Cherokee, Iowa, and grew up near the small town of Peterson, Iowa, as well as in California and Colorado. In 1989, he and his wife, Carol Kratz, quit their jobs, sold their house and spent 18 months traveling around the world. He also figures he's driven some 200,000 miles seeking out photographs, and he's got the rusty truck to show for it.
And a couple of books, too:
He published Lincoln Highway: Main Street Across America in 1988 and Reflecting a Prairie Town: A Year in Paterson in 1994, and is working on two new books on county fairs and the Great Plains. His Plains pictures make up a bulk of the work on exhibit through Sept. 25 at the Viterbo College Gallery.
From the Nebraska sand hills to a small Kansas town, the photos capture some of the ordinary and not-so-ordinary people and places of what he calls "an unusual part of an unusual country." It's a landscape dominated by disappearing towns, accelerated population loss, and a climate that has been misunderstood by generations of Americans, he says.
The American landscape, its juxtaposition of the natural and the manmade, always has intrigued Hokanson, who counts 19th century American landscape painters and 20th century photographers like Walker Evans and Bernice Abbott among his influences.
"All of them were looking at places that most people overlook," he says. "The land has stories to tell, and we can only know fragments of them."
Noticing the beauty in the mundane, just seeing the world we take for granted in a new light, is one of the aims of Hokanson's art.
He recalls with some satisfaction the reaction of a farmer to a photographer he had taken of one of his fields.
"It really is beautiful, isn't it?," the farmer told Hokanson. "I never looked at it that way before."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on Sept. 17, 1998. Drake is now retired from teaching and is a professor emeritus at WSU. But he hasn't stopped traveling or taking great photos or making more books. I encourage you to visit his website (drakehokanson.com) to see his latest work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in a small Wisconsin blue-collar town, Mike Starling ditched the assembly line for a long, sometimes circuitous career working with words, sound and images. His original music is heard on numerous recordings and soundtracks, and his stories and photos have been featured in books, films, mags and other media. Among his other interesting career moves, he has edited a beer magazine, played bass in a reggae band and sold potato chips door-to-door. Inspired by the life-altering events of 2020, he launched a year-long web-based project called I Remember Travel in January 2021.
more work samples
I REMEMBER TRAVEL
Journeys in sight and sound by Mike Starling
All text, images and music in the I Remember Travel weblog ©Mike Starling unless otherwise noted. Music published by Bean Hoy Music (BMI). All rights reserved.