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.