I was finishing my time in Mobridge, South Dakota, photographing a recently shuttered nursing home. I’d spent time with families sharing stories about how difficult it was to travel far to see loved ones. The weather enveloping the Midwest was showing just how difficult it could be. The 2019 polar vortex brought temperatures I hadn’t experienced many times in my life. At the time I took this photograph, the outside temperature was hovering around 30 degrees below zero, with a bitter, biting wind chill of nearly 60 below.

To step outside my safe, warm car for just a minute or two each time I wanted to take a picture sucked all the air out of my lungs. It was exhilarating and terrifying. I was alone, on a road where I didn’t see anyone for about four hours. I kept my car keys in my pocket so that I wouldn’t risk locking myself out. It remains one of my most memorable days of taking pictures, enduring the wind and cold to record the historic weather event. The sun setting on the horizon was one of the last frames I made.

Published in the February 2022 issue: View Contents

Kristina Barker is a West Coast–based photographer who documents the environment and rural communities. She lived and worked in the Black Hills of South Dakota for more than a decade. Her photos have been featured in the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and many other publications.

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