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New Midwest Photography

Nathan Pearce • Untitled, Fairfield, Illinois, 2015. Copyright @ 2018 by Nathan Pearce. No reproduction without permission.
Nathan Pearce • Untitled, Fairfield, Illinois, 2015. Copyright @ 2018 by Nathan Pearce.

There’s a quote I scribbled on a yellow piece of paper and taped to my bedroom wall back when I was twenty-five-years old: “A place is artistic if an artist lives there.” At the time, this idea was really important to me because I felt like a failure for never leaving Wisconsin. Like many people, I genuinely believed that you had to live on one of the coasts to find creative success. I grew up in rural Jefferson, and for most of my childhood I was certain that someday I would move far away, to a big city, to “make it.” For a variety of reasons, I stayed, and, though it’s taken me a while to realize it, I’ve come to see that the Midwest is actually a perfect place to make a creative life.

Part of what led me to this conclusion was a photography website I launched in 2004 called FlakPhoto. Publishing the site connected me to hundreds of image-makers from around the world and gave me a creative outlet to promote their work to a worldwide audience—all from a one-bedroom apartment in Madison. Where I had struggled to find a photo scene here in Wisconsin, in just a few years, I had organized a global community of photographers on the Internet.

FlakPhoto changed my life and the way I think about where I live. My fourteen years of hosting this online community has led me to some incredibly talented artists based right here in the Midwest. So when the James Watrous Gallery approached me to curate a photography exhibition, I knew immediately that it should focus on image-makers who had decided to put down creative roots in this part of the country. Our goal with New Midwest Photography is to showcase a variety of artists currently living in our midst, to look at and celebrate their work, and to recognize this part of America as a vibrant hub of photographic practice.

The following images provide a glimpse into the ways that the ten photographers in this exhibition use their cameras to understand the places they call home. The process of making art is a personal one, so it’s not surprising that each photographer blends individual observation with regional knowledge to make images of the Midwest they know and love.

When my wife, Kristen, and I decided to buy a house in Madison a few years ago, I realized that I had changed. All of a sudden, staying here made sense. There is a lot to love about the Midwest: the slow pace, friendly people, and beautiful landscape. It’s easy to forget that this is an ideal place to make a creative, fulfilling life. In a way, that’s the point of New Midwest Photography: to prove that great things can happen when you know where you belong.

Andy Adams


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Contributors

Andy Adams is an independent producer and publisher whose work explores current ideas in visual culture. He directs FlakPhoto Projects, a digital/arts lab focused on promoting photography in all of its forms. Find him on Instagram @FlakPhoto.

Clarissa Bonet grew up in Florida. In 2000, she moved to Chicago and was struck by her newfound environment. To understand this new landscape and her role within it, she started making images, which led to two ongoing bodies of work, Stray Light and City Space.

Identity and social connection are driving forces in Jess T. Dugan’s work. For the past seven years, she’s been shooting Every Breath We Drew, a series that explores issues of gender and sexuality in the 21st century LGBTQ community.

Tytia Habing grew up in rural Illinois, spent most of her adult life in the Cayman Islands and, after her son was born, realized she needed to come back to the farm. Habing's rustic lifestyle plays a key part in her ongoing series, Tharin, a documentary portrait of her son.

In addition to his art background, Jon Horvath studied English literature and the history of philosophy, and these disciplines influence his approach. “Images provide an opportunity to say something that escapes the confines of words. Words have precise definitions.

Julie Renée Jones learned about photography from her father, a practicing amateur imagemaker. Jones went on to earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in photography and during that time, developed two kindred yet dueling bodies of work: Thirteen and Umbra.

Dave Jordano has been making pictures for nearly fifty years. After a long and successful commercial photography career, he began making personal work in 2000. Since then Jordano has produced several long-term documentary projects, all of them focused on the Midwest.

Nathan Pearce was born in Fairfield, Illinois, a rural farming community in the southern part of the state. Beginning at age eighteen, he spent several years living on both coasts and decided to return to Fairfield when he was twenty-five.

Since graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1990, Barry Phipps has spent nearly three decades making art in the disciplines of music, fashion, and photography. After living in Chicago for more than twenty years, Phipps and his wife relocated to the comparatively small town of Iowa City.

Jason Vaughn had never visited the Midwest until he met his wife, a Wisconsin native. When they moved here Vaughn realized that rural places were fertile territory for photographic exploration. In 2011, his first child was born and he was diagnosed with cancer—two events that changed the way he thought about his relationship to nature.

Since 2015, Lindley Warren has been shooting The Meadows, a meditation on her family members and their troubled history.

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