In the photographic project, "I've Been There: A Namesake Tour of Iowa," I have selected a series of forty-eight towns in Iowa named after famous locations (Paris and Delhi) or familiar concepts (the Orient or Jefferson). Over the past two years, I have traveled to over thirty of the towns to create a series of images that document this sampling of rural Iowa. I use the namesakes to explore the differences between easy assumptions and the reality of a small town Iowa: commonality and dissonance.
The namesakes serve the project two ways. First, they provide means of "random" selection. I know little to nothing about each locale prior to arriving to photograph. I select it for inclusion because of its famous moniker. Second, I use my knowledge of the namesake to influence how I depict each site. I intend to use these images to reveal the manipulative power of the lens while leaving the viewer with a playful look into how we perceive a place.
The connections I am forging are not efforts to search for remnants of a bygone era, but rather an attempt to create new links by careful observation. Before traveling to each town, I conduct brief research about the namesake location. I then arrive with a list of descriptors that my research provides. For example, as I photographed Turin, Iowa I kept the list of concepts rolling in the back of my mind like a mantra. My list contained items such as; Italian mountains, capital of the Alps, the holy shroud, Olympics, cathedrals, ancient architecture, wealthy, classic and divine. I strive to meld the two together; to see the influence of the namesake in the Iowa locale and embody the mood of the Italian town.
My curiosity about my home state began over ten years ago. I moved to Rochester, New York, to attend graduate school and then stayed for over seven years. When I moved to New York, I was surprised to discover that my home state of Iowa was an exotic locale to many. I found myself an unofficial ambassador for Iowa. Regularly I would provide my new East Coast friends with an introduction to the state. Ironically, I happen to have an a-typical relationship with Iowa. I am from Des Moines, the largest city in the state and none of my family farms. My first experience on a farm was while living abroad in India. Three years ago, I accepted a job in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and returned to the Midwest. My new neighbors' stories about small town life in Wisconsin inspired me to reflect on my previous years in the urban Midwest. I began to question what I thought I knew about Iowa.
My assumptions about rural Iowa ran far deeper than I had imagined. I have found myself surprised and delighted to discover that there is so much more to these places than the stereotypes I grew up believing or a residential designer's mark. After years of photographing suburbia and considering spaces that are conceived and engineered by a unified concept, the diversity present in rural life is striking. The residents make their own marks; every place I've traveled to looks and feels different. My camera is chronicling the accumulation of community, unique through shared experience. My work has evolved into questioning and exploring how the place we are in impacts and shapes our both social compact and our individuality.
Toronto, Iowa 1
Gaza, Iowa 2
Rome, Iowa 1
Moscow, Iowa 1
Jefferson, Iowa 1