Art Works Design . . . . . Brain & Eye Guzzles

A review of what's visually/mentally stimulating

Archive for Friend of AWD

Nancy Rexroth- Visionary Photographer

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.

Self Portrait, Athens, Ohio 1969, Nancy Rexroth

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…

A Woman’s Bed · Logan, Ohio · 1970

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.

He Demonstrates · Ironton, Ohio · 1974

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.

Children and Leaves · Shawnee, Ohio · 1974

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).

Group Portrait · Albany, Ohio · 1974

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.


DOG Premieres New Short Film

a new short film by DOG, a theater company for
The Happy Family Series at the Viaduct Theater

Featuring over thirty artists in three weeks, The Happy Family Series is a brimming collection of big-hearted demonstrations exploring “harmonic antagonisms,” the awkward equilibriums, true or false, that we forge with our loved ones/enemies. The Series begins on November 13, and DOG will appear in week 2, November 19-21 at 7p.m. It’s a fantastic line-up of Chicago’s finest—click the series link above for more info!

Glad to see you speaking so clearly is our own exploration of the series theme, as well as the delicate negotiations of confined space and the leveraging of one’s competencies with chairs and sitting. Like all of our work, it’s a collaborative effort that won’t be finished until you are watching. The piece features new music by David Pavkovic, with performances by Chris Sullivan and Vicki Walden. Edited by Vicki Walden.

Fri. & Sat. November 19-20 at 7 pm
Sun. November 21 at 3 pm.
(773) 296-6024 for tickets & info

See Dysfunctional Behaviors Brought to the Stage


Glad to See You Speaking So Clearly
A Short Film in 10 minutes/ 2 people/ no exits
Directed by Vicki Walden
Starring: Christopher Sullivan & Vicki Walden
Music by David Pavkovic

This short film is presented on Fri & Sat Nov 20-21, 2009 at 7 pm / Sunday Nov 22 at 3 pm

For more events from The Happy Family Festival see: The Magpies Project

Chicago’s Founding Fathers

Midwestern Cowpoke

This image is from a series of portraits I created of some of the first settlers and influential magnates of our fair city, Chicagoua (originally the local Indian word for the native garlic plant that grew on the marshy land and in the woods by the lakeside). These Chicagouans were rough business men earning prosperous fortunes amidst the hardscrabble efforts of developing a trading post by nearby Fort Dearborn into one of the fastest growing cities by the turn of the century.

Portraits include:
John Bates Jr.-
Chicagoua’s first licenced auctioneer
Mark Beaubien-
One of Chicagoua’s first successful hoteliers (developed from his boarding house)

 Theater OoblekFaustusHead
An Apology for the Course & Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening

Currently running; this play (with possibly one of the longest titles in recent recorded history) is by one of the seminal Chicago playwrights of our town, MIckle Maher, and played by the always enigmatic Colm O’Riley.
Highly recommended by friends and critics alike. Give Oobleck a try if you haven’t before.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM
September 25 through October 24
Chopin Theatre / 1543 West Division, Chicago
Tickets are $12 or pay-what-you-can–
and, as ever, free if you’re broke
call 773-347-1041 for reservations or see for more.

Empirical Opera Unveiled!


Want to know what this is about? Learn more about E.O.’s Fall activities! Sign up and be a biker, zombie, pirate paddler or fairy explorer as you investigate Chicago as a learning labatory. Send inquiries to