Nancy Rexroth has been able to create a name for herself through the power of nostalgia. Working with the Diana camera and further handling of her images, Rexroth’s photographs are a window into the past, a walk through the present, and a calming sense of what will come in the future. In the reproduction of her acclaimed book Iowa, Rexroth explores the area around her graduate university of a common suburban life. Naming the book after her summer experiences with family in the state of Iowa, the encounters that Rexroth shows in Ohio are genuine for herself while also creating a bond with her audience. The memories lived throughout the pages can have so many stories behind them and the final result that Rexroth prints for view spawns even more to imagine.
Iowa shows the ideal life for a majority of Americans; white-sided houses, kids in the yards playing in piles of leaves, floral wallpaper and quilts on the beds. It is hard to find that sense of community today. Groups of kids having fun outside and people getting to know their neighbors is not as common as it was back in 1977 when the images were first published. Thinking back to childhood days is the first layer of memory making used in Rexroth’s imagery. A lot of houses pictured in the book are as if you are taking a stroll down the block, so quiet and peaceful. Passing each page is like a silent walk on a fall day through this area of Ohio, you can just feel the cool breeze that Rexroth felt as she worked on seizing these moments. The toy camera clicking through the film inside itself relates so well to the playful nature of the smiles both old and young seen across the many pages and many miles Rexroth has covered.
Using the Diana, the black and white images start with a soft focus once snapped. Rexroth takes the manipulation further with blurring the photographs more. This action hides identities of people, location of homes, and the landscape of Ohio. Without the names of the images, the viewers could identify the region to be anywhere, making these specific memories Rexroth once related to herself engaging for anyone seeing her work. The book is like going back to your hometown after being away for so many years and the memories slowly flooding your mind. These simple yet powerful moments are so hard to capture and show through a snapshot, and yet, Rexroth has been able to bring a surge of emotion through a neighbor the majority of her audience probably has never been to.
Rebirthed for its 40th anniversary, Iowa is a vivid dream that stands the test of time. The sentimentality that Rexroth has created for all ages in her book is so pure. The wonder of being able to capture fleeting memories in a lucid way while muddying the focus at the same time seems like it would be an anomaly, but it fits together so well. Rexroth is a master storyteller, weaving together her life and the recollections of others within the binding of Iowa.
If you are interested in purchasing Iowa, you can purchase it on Photo-Eye’s website.
Written by Madison Rich
Photographs by Madison Rich