Midwestern Rebellion (1987-1994)
Portraits of Wisconsin of individualists and subterranean types in their native habitat from the privacy of bedrooms to the public space of the street in coastal towns. Punk rock and art fashion are reinterpreted and made personal as people stand before our view camera. Many of the photographs were commissioned by regional magazines who supported our earliest work including Milwaukee Magazine, Express Milwaukee, Art Muscle Magazine, and Jim Romenesko‘s Public Record. Made at the height of MTV and before the web, personal construction and presentation read as an idiosyncratic project.
View images on Flickr
Read Chicago Reader 5.22.1992 feature by Jeffrey Felshman
Read Milwaukee Sentinel 11.4.1994 review by Janice T. Paine
Read Shepherd Express 11.17.1994 review by Jimmy von Milwaukee
Read View Camera Magazine March/April 1996 feature by Janice T. Paine
Essay by J. Shimon & J. Lindemann (1994)
The peculiar nature of rebellion in remote areas of the Midwest has been at the heart of our photographs since 1986. The physical and psychological distance of small towns from major commercial/cultural centers has fomented a sense of personal individualism that is a reaction to the easy conformity perpetrated by a mass culture that validates people by their possessions.
Our process draws on photographic conventions responsive to the instinctive theatricality of the people we photograph. We work with many different kinds of cameras, but what seems very right at this time is the 8×10. For us, the most special thing about the 8×10 is how subtle the depth-of-focus can be manipulated, allowing the viewers eye to drift around until landing on an area of perfect definition. Very specific parts of the scene can be given emphasis. The picture becomes more about the thing than about how the thing has been framed by the photographer.
The photographs end up referencing the exaggerated emotions of made-for-TV-movies and the static compositions of 17th-century genre painting. We record a post-TV era. Everyone knows the language of melodrama and fantasy now an integral part of our culture. By-products of MTV’s proliferation of hipness, the cult of personality, and talk show theatrics define and incite rebellion.
The specificity of each subject’s environment creates baroque-tableaux revealing a fleeting, self-conscious fragment of an idiosyncratic existence now recorded as shadow on film. Claustrophobic domestic spaces and nondescript vernacular architecture ground these portraits of unknown people in Midwestern reality. These people struggle to escape homogenization by mass culture. We’ve come to know each of them well, and share a willingness to communicate their resistance. We live our lives as a protest against the institutionalized, provincial blandness and feel-good polemic around us.
What we aspire to do is make pictures that resonate with our sensibilities, that have some sort of meaningfulness and insight into how things may be. This pursuit may or may not be Art. What most people consider Art has a lot to do with conceptual novelty and decorative appeal. Most of our pictures include subject matter that has become ugly photo cliche; stuff like black leather jackets, guitars, tattoos. The campiness of this appeals to us. When we rely on the kitsch elements to legitimize the photo opportunity, we can get right down to the business of getting a picture with some emotional substance.
MIDWESTERN REBELLION doesn’t have anything to do with ethnography–the subjects in these photographs are just the people directly around us. The work is directed solely by our personal visual interest. Initially these photographs are the imposition of our own ideas on the surrounding culture. Because the subject’s ideas are involved, they evolve into something else. What they seem to end up representing is a universal state-of-being.
The expansiveness of Midwestern spaces along with the anesthetic quality of electronically-propagated-cultural-doctrine permeate our subconscious. The precariousness and isolation that results places Midwestern people in a vacuum that serves as a source of anxiety, feeding either a reactionary placidity or a self-styled rebellion. It is the physical beauty of this rebellion that has inspired these photographs.