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    A Woman's Bed, Logan, Ohio, 1970 in Nancy Rexroth: Iowa
    Courtesy of Robert Mann Gallery
    A Woman's Bed, Logan, Ohio, 1970

    My own private Iowa

    In "Iowa," photographer Nancy Rexroth's journey into a personal past becomes a meditation on time and space for everyone.


    Nancy Rexroth is best known for a series of gelatin silver prints entitled "Iowa In Ohio" dated 1976. Shot with a vintage low-tech, plastic camera made in Hong Kong during the 1960s called the Diana camera, the project was motivated by a powerful sense that the Diana's imprecise qualities were especially suited to portray..."feelings," as the artist put it.

    Exhibition: Iowa.
    Photographs by: Nancy Rexroth.
    November 18, 2004 - January 8, 2005
    Opening reception: November 18, 2004, 6-8

    Gallery: Robert Mann Gallery
    210 Eleventh Avenue (between 24th & 25th Streets), 10th floor
    New York NY
    Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-6pm
    Phone: (212) 989-7600

    The iconography of "Iowa" is rural Midwestern life during the 1970s. The small gelatin silver prints measure about 4" x 4" on sheets of photographic paper 10" x 8", and portray scenes in velvety tones from brilliant white to satiny, charcoal black. Narrow asphalt country roads dip and rise past fields and trees. The perspectival planes of a two-story white clapboard house give geometry to lightfall across gables, mudrooms, windows and doors. The aperture of a window turns the interior of a woman's bedroom into a kind of large camera, admitting light that seeps into the bedspread and falls away into shadow. A pillow arches languorously under the smooth coverlet. The boudoirs' contours in the image are modest and reserved, yet promisingly full. In a few frames, figures appear: children at play, the artist's mother and aunt.

    At heart, the subject matter of "Iowa" is Rexroth's memories, and the theme is time travel — that imaginary dimension between then and now that the camera's inversion of the world is so often called upon to bridge. Conceived as a waking dream, Rexroth wanted a collective experience of the rural midwest to be entwined with the images. On a more personal level, beyond sharing her childhood memories with the viewer, she intended to make a place for the spirits of people who lived in these places, or places like them, to dwell — a photographic tableaux vivant seance, perhaps.

    Town and Mountain, Pomeroy, Ohio, c.1970s in Nancy Rexroth: Iowa  
    Courtesy of Robert Mann Gallery  
    Town and Mountain, Pomeroy, Ohio, c.1970s
    "Iowa" downplays the scientific side of photography in favor of the camera's psychological power to engage the mind. Rexroth has been compared to Julia Margaret Cameron, a 19th century photographer who deliberately worked in soft focus as a means toward metaphorical portraiture. Cameron's approach implicitly shunned the authority of photography as an empirical tool. Similarly, the Diana camera's plastic lens and toy-like body almost mock the power of precisely calibrated lenses to render mimetic reality, softening the gaze into a kind of crystal ball perspective that is completely unlike that of, say, a Nikon 35mm SLR. The Diana camera enjoyed a huge vogue in the 1970s.

      The subject matter of "Iowa" is Rexroth's memories, and the theme is time travel
    Some of Rexroth's contemporaries included Francesca Woodman, Nan Goldin, and Cindy Sherman. The dreamy qualities of camera images as an extension of the artistic self were also being explored by artists such as Lucas Samaras and Duane Michaels. At the same time, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Robert Adams, the young and unknown Robert Mapplethorpe, even Andy Warhol, in various ways, worked with the medium's potential as social documentary and personal testimony. Photography as an art form was still encumbered with bastard status in the 1970s, despite the best efforts of MOMA and the innovative critical approach of John Coplans in his role as an editor at ArtForum. Conceptual photography by sculptors and painters, whose denial of being called photographers was backed up by their supporting curators and critics, paradoxically highlighted the divided visual language of photography and its contested status as art.

    Disparate conceptions of the medium in play during the 1970s were eventually subsumed by the juggernaut of postmodernism in the 1980s and beyond. The net effect has been that we have all become more sophisticated consumers of images in their fluid contexts, whether news, advertisement, tv, billboards, posters, movies, art galleries, or personal communication launched by digital technology into the public world sphere via the internet, commercial satellites, and cell phones. Visual language and its meanings circulate as long as there are viewers and/or communities to keep them in motion.

    Rexroth's intimate portrait of the Midwest might be a point of departure to investigate one's own space, one's own time and place.  

    Rexroth ends "Iowa" with a completely blank image. All that identifies The white interior as a photograph is the delicate black border made by the gap between the blades of her easel and the unexposed edges of the Diana negative. The dream ends and shakes the viewer out of Iowa into her or his own time and place. This lovely idea for a closing image suggests that Rexroth's intimate portrait of the Midwest might be a point of departure to investigate one's own space, one's own time and place.

    "Iowa" has been touring the US since 2000, so the series has clearly found new relevance almost 30 years later. Contemplating its intimate size, genuine charm, sincerity, and brave fragility is rejuvenating. Perhaps imagining that there is value in who we are, wherever we are — even wherever we were or wanted to be is part of its message. "Iowa" makes room to explore the idea that multiple places and time spaces matter in the personal and collective time that we share.

    DECEMBER 12, 2004

    Reader comments on Nancy Rexroth: Iowa:

  • my home   from Jen Maxted-DeYoe, Nov 7, 2007
  • Nancy Rexroth   from darryl, May 6, 2009
  • Nancy rexroth   from darryl, May 6, 2009

  • Post a comment on "Nancy Rexroth: Iowa"