Friday, June 23, 2017

"Rexroth's Strawberries" and the Beauty of IOWA

In the early 1970s, Nancy Rexroth began photographing the rural landscapes, children, white frame houses, and domestic interiors of southeastern Ohio with a plastic toy camera called the Diana. Having discovered the Diana camera while in graduate school in Ohio, Rexroth began experimenting with the looseness and spontaneity of the camera and the images it produced.
Plastic cameras are a simple and loving tonic for those who are frustrated and needing joy in their art work. How can you be at all serious, while using a camera that makes the sound of a wind-up toy every time you advance the film?—Nancy Rexroth, Q&A with Blake Andrews
Working with the camera’s properties of soft focus and vignetting, and further manipulating the photographs by deliberately blurring or sometimes overlaying them, Rexroth created dreamlike, poetic images of “my own private landscape, a state of mind.” She called this state IOWA. Rexroth self-published her evocative images in 1977 in the book IOWA, and the photographic community responded immediately and strongly to the work. Aperture published a portfolio of IOWA images in a special issue, The Snapshot, alongside the work of Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, and Emmet Gowin. The International Center for Photography, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution included IOWA images in group exhibitions.

Forty years after its original publication, IOWA has become a classic of fine art photography, a renowned demonstration of Rexroth’s ability to fashion a world of surprising aesthetic possibilities using a simple, low-tech dollar camera. Long out of print and highly prized by photographers and photobook collectors, IOWA will be republished with twenty-two previously unpublished images, a new foreword by Magnum photographer and book maker Alec Soth, an essay by internationally acclaimed curator Anne Wilkes Tucker, and postscripts by Nancy Rexroth and Mark L. Power, who wrote the essay in the first edition.


Alec Soth, who wrote the foreword, "Wild Strawberries," for the reissued book, said of Rexroth's work: "[Her] images seem not to set the hard facts of place but instead to evoke the world of dreams." He compares her photography to a character in Ingmar Bergman's film, Wild Strawberries, writing: 
"It occurs to me that her delicate and informal way of photographing might be compared to picking wild strawberries. As in Bergman’s film, small delicacies carry larger symbolic meaning. . . . Rexroth’s pictures, her vibration, her wild strawberries: they are a kind of longing. Their inability to be located, the softness of the tones, their simultaneous inclusion and exclusion of time: these combine to create a sort of betweenness, like the sensation of moving toward a goal, like the feeling of seeking."
IOWA—the first photography book to showcase the artistry and beauty of photos taken on the Diana—remains a seminal volume and point of inspiration for contemporary photographers. As renowned photography curator Anne Wilkes Tucker writes in her essay for the reissue, "[Rexroth] preserves moments and scenes others might never notice or reject as unworthy of record: the look of a freshly made bed and of one unmade, the low perspective of blades of grass, and thin shadows of winter limbs snaking across the side of a home. She uses graphic forms with the intelligence of a fine poet. This is a feminine eye and a brave one. She takes a crosscurrent rather than follow the prevailing winds and brings us with her."

IOWA is currently available for pre-order, and will be available from your favorite bookseller in August.

IOWA Nancy Rexroth

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