Town & Country

Town & Country installation view, Caestecker Gallery, Ripon, Wisconsin, October 1997

“Town & Country” installation view, Caestecker Gallery, Ripon, Wisconsin, October 1997

Town & Country (1992-1997)

Portraits of the small town teens in the 1990s who had ample free time to roam the streets of Manitowoc late at night, form bands and make art. At the same time, we photographed people living in rural areas whose highly structured lives required them to be in sync with the patterns of nature and extremes of the four seasons in Wisconsin.

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TOWN & COUNTRY

 

Essay by J. Shimon & J. Lindemann (1997)

 

Based on some romantic notion and a fascination with small town life, we returned to the city of Manitowoc, Wisconsin (population 32,000) after finding a cheap warehouse/storefront just a couple blocks from Lake Michigan. We’d both grown up in nearby rural areas, left for 10 years, then moved back to set up our studio.

 

Some of the people here turned the boredom and isolation of living in a languishing blue-collar industrial town into an opportunity to craft their own reality. We photographed them. We’d meet young people at punk shows, at the convenience store in our neighborhood, through our friend who manages the record store, or they’d end up on our doorstep. They were on the fringes of local mainstream culture, if only because they didn’t look quite like everyone else. Without an extensive peer group to emulate or cohesive scene to participate in, they were left to invent their own. Although visually unspectacular by urban standards, they took substantial personal risk just walking down the street looking as they did. We photographed some of them repeatedly in an attempt to record their personal evolution.

 

Eventually, we felt the need to revisit the rural reality we had known and photographed teenagers living on traditional dairy farms out in the surrounding countryside. Unlike the kids from town who had time to roam the streets late at night with ample time to explore and experiment with mind-altering activities ranging from sleep deprivation to huffing Glade, the country kids led highly structured lives that required them to be in tune with their families, the milking schedule, and the patterns of nature.

 

It was important to us to make some pictures on small family dairy farms while some still existed. These photographs reference the cliches and conventions of animal showmanship pictures of the 1940s and 1950s. Most of the kids were familiar with the language and tradition of these animal-owner portraits and knew exactly how they should pose. We were interested in making photographs based on preconceived notions of picture construction. The work reacts to a variety of cultural sources ranging from the propaganda photography of the FSA to TV shows like Green Acres. The pictures also attempt to convey the gravity of the business of producing food. By cutting and pasting segments of photo history, pop-culture and propaganda, we hoped to arrive at a timeless vision of rural Midwestern youth that evokes a substantial purposefulness in their pursuits and a sense of destiny in their character.

 

With our 8×10 view camera, we dwell on the beauty of genuine idiosyncrasy, the biography and meaning held in the specificity of detail. We attempt to make radically straightforward pictures with our subject matter considered in a pop-art manner without an overt artist’s agenda. What most people want out of photography is some kind of truth, some equivalent to realness. But all you get is a distorted two-dimensional, record of the light that reflects off your subject. The chroma, tonal character, optical perspective and clarity of the final image are all abstracted. Those simple physics are all there is to photography. It involves a lot of editorial manipulation and chance occurrences, but within these variables photography can represent many different visions.

 

A lot of what our pictures are about has to do with who we are and where we come from. In a way, they are a method of self-portraiture, with added distance unattainable through the conventional method.

 

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