Sarah Christianson

Sarah Christianson (b. 1982) grew up on a four-generation family farm in North Dakota (an hour north of Fargo). Immersed in that vast expanse of the Great Plains, she developed a strong affinity for its landscape and stories. This connection to place and family has had a profound effect on her work: despite moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009, she continues to document the subtleties and nuances of the Midwestern landscape and experience through long-term projects.

Christianson earned an MFA in photography from the University of Minnesota. Her work has been exhibited internationally and can be found in the collections of Duke University, the National Museum of Photography in Copenhagen, and several institutions in the Midwest. She has received grants from the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Center for Cultural Innovation. Christianson’s first book, Homeplace (Daylight Books), documents the history and uncertain future of her family’s farm by interweaving her images with old snapshots and historical documents culled from her personal archive. Her current project, When the Landscape is Quiet Again, examines the oil boom occurring in western North Dakota. Throughout her work, she uses her personal experiences and connection to the land to evoke a strong sense of place, history, and time.

Artist’s Statement

Wallace Stegner once wrote, “Expose a child to a particular environment at his susceptible time and he will perceive in shapes of that environment until he dies” (Wolf Willow, 1955). This statement resonates with me because all of my work revolves around North Dakota, where I was born and raised. My roots here run deep: both sides of my family emigrated from Norway and homesteaded in the state.

My two main projects present a cross-section of rural life in North Dakota and are a study in contrasts: from black and white to color, paternal vs. maternal heritage, and the fertile farmland of the east to the new industrialized oil landscape of the west.

Homeplace (2009-2012) examines the history and uncertain future of my family’s four-generation farm in the Red River Valley. Its original 160 acres were homesteaded in 1884 by my paternal great-great grandfather, a Norwegian immigrant. My parents are now the fourth, and last, consecutive generation to work our land, as my siblings and I have all moved away to pursue other careers. These circumstances provided me with the impetus to document our farm and its origins in Norway at this critical junction.

When the Landscape is Quiet Again: North Dakota’s Oil Boom (2012-Present) documents the transformation of western North Dakota’s quiet agrarian landscape into an industrial zone dotted with well sites, criss-crossed by pipelines, lit up by natural gas flares, contaminated by spills, and fracked beyond recognition. I investigate what remains on the land from previous booms, how the region is changing today, and my family’s involvement.