In the winter of 2004, I began work on DOG Town, a series of photographic views and characterizations, made in a small, neglected working class town in the Mississippi River valley where I was born and raised. My grandfather, and then my father, owned a small sheet metal fabrication shop in our town, and for two generations, serviced the once vibrant steel and ammunition plants that are now fledgling and in disrepair.
Growing up in the second half of the twentieth century my conceptualizations of industrial labor, like many of the girls and women I knew, were vague and ill defined. The factories were merely places along the horizon of the river, dull facades with vermiculate patterns and clusters of indistinct stars, or clouds and haze, gray with a nebular glow. Nearly everyone I knew had fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, friends and lovers who labored in these local factories, working night shifts, calculating the material and emotional expense of holiday pay and overtime, and who often drank hard and steady.
Together these pictures comprise a quiet, often starkly beautiful meditation on the mineral wastes and dregs of an unsparing indifferent economy. And, though I have employed the elegant, well-worn mannerisms of photographic documentation, Dog Town is not merely a historical record. It is also an elegiac work of remembrance, mourning, regret and conciliation for my father and men at work in a different time and place. The images that follow are mined from my earliest recollections, those still constellating on the edges of my awareness, and (now) perceived through adult consciousness. They are made up of tired light, dog days and falling, rendering time through the strange and luminous reflections of winter light.
Vanity + Consolation
I grew up in the Middle West in a small blue-collar town on the Mississippi River and experienced estrangement and shock as I moved farther and farther away from home. After photographing the landscape in the small villages and towns where I had once lived, I began my portraits of women, girls, children and their families as a way to look inward and remember, to question my surroundings and to examine what felt like a kind of homelessness. My imaginative response was to retreat inside. I rarely ventured outside homes, backyards and private gardens intent on showing the complexities and forcefulness of inner life. The landscape receded, still important and symbolic, but now becoming a ground to build character.
After all, the world I photograph remains the world of my childhood. I have tried to make pictures from this place, the place of an insider, with all of the contradictions and ambivalence this implies. The women and girls in my pictures stand in as surrogates struggling with conflict between heart and body. The challenge as I see it is to break through an ancient and nearly impenetrable surface of vanity and to seek out the small cracks, the holes and whorled places that hold our pain, our sadness and our beauty. I understand my work much like one understands a rudimentary map. It is a modest effort to understand the diffuse and complicated scale of spirit and sensuality.