IOWA PHOTOGRAPHS is an ongoing series that began in the summer of 2012. Photographs from this series will be published in book form by The University of Iowa Press in May 2018. More information HERE. The following text is the artist's statement from the book Between Gravity and What Cheer: Iowa Photographs.

 

INTO THE IOWA INTERIOR

The photographs contained in this collection are from a series I began in the summer of 2012. After living in Chicago, IL for more than two decades, my wife and I relocated to the comparatively small town of Iowa City, IA. It was a strange and wonderful feeling to know absolutely nothing about the towns and landscape that surrounded our new home. I started taking day trips in every direction, which was easy to do, as this town has old highways that intersect like a twisted bicycle wheel, with Iowa City at the hub.

Over the next four years I took countless trips and shot a few hundred rolls of film. Along the way, I marked up a road map with a Sharpie marker to make note of where I had been and published five volumes of an on-demand publication I called Iowa Photographs. The magazine was crammed with everything I was excited about at the end of a photo season, which usually coincided with an art exhibition of photographs of recent work.

My trips were random and haphazard from a planning standpoint, and were often decided by heading towards the town with the most interesting name (What Cheer, Diagonal, Gravity), or by the way the chosen road would add to the look of the marked up map (as the map became a sort of conceptual art piece in and of itself ). By spring of 2016, I wondered how many of Iowa’s 99 counties I had managed to photograph within and discovered that only 23 remained, many of which I had already driven through on route to somewhere else but hadn't managed to stop. I plotted four trips, referring to this in my head as the County Completion Series. By late October of 2016 I photographed my last untapped county and decided that this was a good time to assess the first four years of this project and see what I could say with a body of work from all over the state.

There's no getting around it: a collection of photographs taken in Iowa is likely to read as a book about Iowa. My intention was only to learn of my surroundings, and to compose with color, line, texture and form, something I learned studying painting with Lester Goldman at The Kansas City Art Institute in the late 80s. I think of these photographs as extensions of paintings, with the added element of composing with subject matter that also signifies something culturally. I am an American who is fascinated by our culture. These images are, individually, an exercise in photographs made not of something, but composed from something. I see these as individual visual communications that, when combined into a linear collection through the pages of this book, read as a long mysterious sentence with images on facing pages suggesting connections that would not happen if presented alone. The photographs appear concrete visually but communicate abstractly.

I entered small towns to find things for composition, and those things never included people or people's homes. Business districts seemed less personal. For the most part, I felt a sense that people knew I was there, but left me alone in a respectful way. Occasionally, people did approach me, either out of curiosity or out of potential conflict, but always ended in good conversation and an occasional portrait, some of which are included in this collection.

Most small towns in the midwest formed to serve agricultural needs that are no longer necessary, as small family farms have been replaced by large scale farming. is is not about that, but that affects this. People identify with where they live. There are countless efforts to revitalize these places, in many ways, and for me, the most profound is in public murals made by local, self taught artists that often depict the history of the town.

I find myself living in the future of my childhood. As a kid, I pictured this current world as being uniformly futuristic. The reality is more one of layers of cultural accumulation, and where these layers exist is where I tend to compose. All of the layers are constantly in flux, as are my perceptions.

The rivers and lines that form the boundary of this state are arbitrary. Nothing changes much in terms of culture or scenery as these lines are crossed, at least not at first. I've constantly tried to find what is unique to Iowa. My answer is that Iowa is the place that had all of the things that are in these photographs and not in these photographs, in those moments, in those conditions.

Barry Phipps

Iowa City, IA, August, 2017