Below are excerpts of a longer interview with the photographer Nancy Rexroth. Her work investigates the world translated through the camera lens in ways that create an emotional experience that transports you to an “other” personal world that the artist has equated with her memories from childhood. But this work does not exploit the cloying nostalgia of childhood, rather it examines the essence of light, emptiness, and off-kilter memories with a vision that is both gorgeously awkward, and that refines the imagery to essential impressions of time, feeling and experience.
Since its publication in 1977 Nancy Rexroth‘s book Iowa has become an underground classic. Shot in the small rural country of Southeastern Ohio using a Diana camera with a plastic lens, and named after her childhood memories, the book is mysterious on many levels. It has long been out of print and copies are scarce.
Can you tell me how you first got started shooting the Diana.
Nancy Rexroth: I was in graduate school at Ohio University in 1969. The courses were very technical for me, and we were studying the Zone System. I was so frustrated with it ALL, all things technical. An instructor had discovered the Diana in Chinatown, New York, and brought it back for use in the beginning photography classes. I saw him use the camera, and I realized that he had somehow loosened up……and he was almost silly while using the camera….
That’s one thing I love about Iowa. The photos feel very loose and spontaneous.
I bought a Diana, experimented for two weeks or so. I made a number of unremarkable photographs with it. At one point, I made an interior photo of a woman’s bed. After that image, I just got into a groove of feeling, with the camera…….And I continued…
So at that point you shot exclusively Diana and gave up other cameras?
Yes, I was mostly using the Diana from then on. Although I did have a few other projects after that: Platinum prints of 4X5 head shots of women, and later on using the “Polaroid SX-70 Transfer” method. In 2000, I also experimented with color imagery, using a cheap digital camera called the Digipix. I do feel that my work with the Diana is my best, so far. I keep my Nikon camera around, and use it for snapshots of friends.
I do want to make it clear here that my main attraction to the Diana was the sort of images I could make with it. The fact that it was a toy camera was not the striking draw at all, for me. I quickly began seeing the Diana as just another camera, nothing but a tool. I have always wondered why people get so into the Diana camera, and obsess over the cuteness, and the retro-ness of the camera. I guess the Diana can easily be a gimmick. And this makes it hard to fashion something original with the camera.
It has become a cult sort of camera. I remember about 15 years ago, I was using my Diana camera in a park and someone said “Oh yes, the cult of the Diana,” and they sounded quite scornful. I didn’t really respond because, well, IT IS a cult….
So when you made the Iowa photos you were in some state of heightened consciousness? Being pulled along and elevated by the camera?
Yes, but please note, it was not the camera but what could be done with it. I was never in love with the Diana. And over time, I found that Iowa could be anywhere, for me……Iowa was a state of mind.
As I understand it, a place from your childhood? Were you making the Iowa photographs with an eventual book in mind, or did the book come later?
No, a book was not in my mind until I had worked with the camera for at least 5 years. I had made those images, not caring, or knowing why I was using the camera. I applied for a National Endowment grant, and realized that my “project” needed a name. Somehow I thought of the name Iowa, because I could identify that….(click here to read the full article).
Full disclosure: Nancy Rexroth is my aunt. So while that may open me up to charges of bias, I will still assert that that in no way changes the fact the she is one of a handful of significant and influential photographers who’s pioneering work in the 1970s (which just happened to use a then relatively unknown camera in an innovative way) has left an indelible mark on the photography /art world.
After enthusiastically following their work (both individually and as a couple) for many years, we want to highly recommend the husband/artist team of Dutes Miller & Stan Shellabarger. They have a show currently up at Western Exhibitions Gallery (free and open to the public until Nov 13). This description is from the gallery’s website:
Western Exhibitions is pleased to present an exhibition by husband-and-husband artist team Miller & Shellabarger. This second showing at Western Exhibitions of Miller & Shellabarger’s collaborative pursuits will focus on works from several inter-related projects including Volume 6 of their large-scale silhouette artist books, documents from a recent performance involving funeral pyres and intimate, discrete objects that utilize embroidery and carved shells.
The silhouette is a key component in several of these new works. Miller & Shellabarger first employed silhouettes in large-scale artist books that contained their individual profiles, each one cut by the other. We will show the most recent book in this series as well as other silhouette-based works that use the silhouette as a starting point, including conjoined beard silhouette collages traced by friends and two embossed lead pieces that feature similar imagery. We will also show larger-than-life, phantasmagorical images, created during their “Summer Studio” artist residency at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries in 2010 which take advantage of the distortions of the silhouetted figure in light and shadow. Life-size body tracings of each other are realized in large drawings on paper made with gunpowder, and in a small book of photographs of body tracings made with seeds.
Additional work will include a twin set of pillowcases, each monogrammed with their initials using hair from their beards as thread, a delicate cameo depicting the two with their beards intertwined carved out of sardonic shell by an Italian master carver, and photographs from a recent performance “Untitled (Pyre)” where they found two naturally fallen trees in the forest, chopped them, and stacked the fireplace-sized pieces into roughly human-size forms, and burned these pyres at dusk.
Miller & Shellabarger are a 2009 recipient of the Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant, 2008 recipient of an Artadia Award, and a 2007 recipient of a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation award. Their work is in the collections of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Gallery of Canada in Ontario. In 2010 they showed a major selection of work at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, Maine, participated in the Time-Based Arts (TBA) festival in Portland, Oregon and will have a solo exhibition in 2011 at the Illinois State University Galleries in Normal, Illinois. Their work has been written about in Artforum.com, Art & Auction, Frieze, Artnet, The Art Newspaper, Flash Art, TimeOut Chicago, and the Chicago Sun-Times. Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger also maintain separate artistic practices. They live and work in Chicago.
A recent article by Erin Rook, published in Just Out, a GLBT publication in Portland, so perfectly captures the meaning, process and spirit in their work that we concluded Ms. Rook says it so much better than we could. (Slightly edited for length. See full text here)
Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger explore the dynamics of love and loss through performance pieces that emphasize the artistic process as a metaphor for the cycles of life and death, of connection and separation. The Chicago-based couple has been creating collaborative works since they starting dating 17 years ago, bringing together their respective fascinations with the body to produce performance art that speaks to universal themes in relationships in a distinctly physical way.
Their collective work focuses on the ways bodies relate. Past performances have included braiding their beards together, intentionally acquiring sunburn while embracing and a project (ongoing since 2003) in which the men crochet opposite ends of a pink tube that both separate and connect them.
Miller and Shellabarger’s art often challenges stereotypes about gender and sexuality, sometimes intentionally and other times inevitably. Many of the couple’s performances incorporate a domestic element—crocheting, sewing, origami—and their masculine appearance alone contradicts perceptions about queer men. “Whether we want it to or not, because of our relationship to one another, the personal becomes political,” says 41-year-old Shellabarger. Miller adds that while his own individual work has a clearly intentional queer focus, their collective work does not. It’s simply “a matter of fact.” More from Miller: “Just because we’re two men and we’re in this relationship, it’s queer. One of the things we hope is that it’s something other people can look at and see themselves in, both straight people and queer people.”
Still, as obvious as the nature of their relationship seems to the artists, it doesn’t always translate. In Europe, the couple has found their sexuality to be both understood and a non-issue. “It seemed incredibly obvious to them that we were [queer],” Shellabarger says. “So their interpretation of the pieces often didn’t have to do with that. It had to do with this relationship between the two of us, they didn’t fixate on the fact that we were queer.”
In the United States, however, audiences are resistant to even acknowledge that they are queer, puzzling over what the nature of their relationship could possibly be. “People will ask us if we’re brothers, other people will think we’re friends and some people will be in complete denial even after we tell them,” Miller says. “There’s this denial that masculine men are gay because gay men are always effeminate, so it’s this constantly confronting stereotypes.”
However perplexed some audiences may be by the exact nature of their relationship, the threads running through the couple’s recent work could not be more universal. Miller says they have been inspired in part by “The Work of Mourning” by Jacques Derrida.
In the piece the couple will be performing at the Time-Based Arts Festival in Portland, Oregon, “Untitled (Graves),” they explore connection through and beyond death. Miller and Shellabarger will each dig a size-proportional grave (“Stan’s will be taller and narrower, mine will be wider and shorter,” Miller explains) on the grounds of Washington High. After lying in the graves, they will dig a tunnel between the two through which to hold hands. Whether the graves are a full 6-feet deep will depend on the terrain and weather. But regardless of the depth, Miller says lying in them is a moving experience.
“You’re really thinking about death in a very purposeful way that doesn’t necessarily occur in life all the time and what it means to anticipate the loss of your lover,” Miller says.
“Untitled (Graves)” is not the couple’s first piece exploring death. Over the summer, the couple performed “Untitled (Pyre)” in which they each cut up fallen trees and piled them into stacks resembling funeral pyres and burned them. “The two trees ended up serving as doppelgangers, one for Dutes, one for myself,” Shellabarger explains. “We … stacked them into a funeral pyre so it was very column-like, making reference to the body and then at sunset set them on fire. It was this idea of self-emulation, or the destruction of, the disappearance of the body.”
Please come join us in celebrating a night of creative exhibitionism (literally!)
Click here to see a larger–more readable–version of the poster’s information.
See excellent visual art, sculpture and film in a welcoming gallery and art salon.
The Chicago Waldorf School offers a progressive curriculum that successfully integrates arts and academics to bring out a genuine enthusiasm for learning. Their unique approach to education corresponds to the various stages of human development by focusing not only on what children learn, but how they learn. Students engage in all aspects of creative practice and artistic expression that is embedded into the learning process and curriculum structure.
Waldorf Alumni Exhibition Opening
Thursday March 25th from 6pm – 9pm
Questions? Contact the event organizers.
Chicago is a great city for birds and over 80 native species of birds nest here. Two hundred more use our city as a resting stop during migration every spring and fall, finding vital protection and food in the city’s parks, river ways, lakeshore, school grounds, street trees, and backyards.
Birds are an important part of the web of life — controlling insect populations and other pests,
pollinating flowers, and bringing nature into people’s lives.
Professional designers, carpenters, and artists, along with students and novices are encouraged
to design and build a house for one of the eight species in the competition and be inspired by the bird-friendly habitats in Chicago.
Application registration is due by April 16th
Finished Birdhouses submitted (with entry forms) to the Chicago Center for Green Technology on April 29-May 1st.
AMERICAN ARTIFACT: THE RISE OF AMERICAN ROCK POSTER ART (a Chicago premiere!)
2009, Merle Becker, USA, 88 min.
“Finally, a true American form of artistic expression is given the long-overdue credit it deserves.”—Scott Mantz, Access Hollywood
As noted in the December issue of Chicago magazine, the lowly rock poster, once snubbed by the connoisseurs of high culture, is now a hot, sought-after collectible in the art world. AMERICAN ARTIFACT’s sumptuous history of this extravagant art form shows off the colorful work to advantage while giving voice to its fascinating and outspoken creators. Featured artists include Stanley Mouse, legendary designer of the Grateful Dead logo; Victor Moscoso, famed for his vibrating, psychedelic designs; plus Frank Kozik, COOP, EMEK, Tara McPherson, Chicago designers Jay Ryan and Mat Daly, and more. The soundtrack features Butthole Surfers, The Avengers, The Slackers, Andrew Bird, and more. DigiBeta video.
Director Merle Becker and poster artists Jay Ryan, Mat Daly, Steve Ryan, and Jim Pollock will be present for audience discussion following the 8:00 pm screening on Saturday.
Gene Siskel Film Center
164 North State Street Map it
Chicago, Illinois 60601
January 29th—February 4th
TYPEFACE (a Chicago premiere!)
2009, Justine Nagan, USA, 58 min.
VIVA LA CAUSA
1974, Teena Webb, USA, 12 min.
IN TYPEFACE, handmade wooden type in an astonishing range of sizes and styles comes to life in new and unique combinations when seasoned craftsmen, the masters of an obsolete but beloved technology, throw open the treasure trove of the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in the historic town of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, to contemporary artists and graphic designers. This exploration of the art of putting letters on a printed page from world-renowned Kartemquin Films (HOOP DREAMS) finds the human story in the preservation of the centuries-old printing process when artists of the digital age discover the tactile delight and limitless possibilities of working with the real rather than the virtual.
Preceded by the vintage Kartemquin short VIVA LA CAUSA, celebrating Chicago’s Chicano mural movement of the 1970s. 16mm.
TYPEFACE director Justine Nagan will be present for audience discussion at the Friday screening.
Gene Siskel Film Center
164 North State Street Map it
Chicago, Illinois 60601
January 29th—February 4th