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Center for Great Plains Studies


Larry Schwarm

I spent my childhood on a farm outside of Greensburg, Kansas, where my parents still live.  The town has been as familiar to me as the back of my hand.  It has been a constant, always there, with changes so subtle that they were often difficult to notice.  Then last spring, in just one day, it was gone, and where it had been was now a landscape of splintered wood and twisted metal.  It took less than fifteen minutes for a massive tornado to reduce over a thousand homes to an enormous pile of rubble.

These photographs, taken just hours after the tornado, are the most difficult images that I have ever made.  They are my reaction to the incomprehensible loss of an entire community, a product of shock and disbelief of what fellow Kansans now call “the storm”.   When I walked into town, my intention was simply to document the destruction.  What I was confronted with was so emotionally overpowering that I had to use my camera as a shield, putting a layer between me and some of the rawness. 

Relationships between man and nature, with its inherent cycles of destruction and renewal, have been an enduring theme in my photographs.  As I worked through the horror and sadness, chaos distilled into clarity and I began to find some surviving beauty in a now-alien landscape.  

Greensburg Images 

Landscape/Fire Images