I've been particularly (read: weirdly) keen on the Midwest in the last few months, probably more than I've ever been in my entire life--and I'm a Midwesterner. A lot of that has to do with having spent the last year in Scotland, where I found myself looking back toward home with a traveler's eye that, if sometimes wistfully, found comfort in memories of things that I had taken for granted or even ridiculed before: the ubiquitous big red barn, un-ironic flannel shirts and beards, huge trucks, log cabins, pine forests and lakes, the more-bars-than-houses sort of main streets in small rural towns, and the list goes on. Just the other day I happened upon a lumberjack show -- yes, this is a thing -- where two bearded, flanneled-up off-season lumberjacks competed with one another in feats of sawing, chopping, and chainsaw carving. Yes, yes, and yes.
Nathan Pearce's relationship to the Midwest, as expressed in the series Midwest Dirt (available in a bootleg book form), hit me square in the "I feel you" muscle: after a decade spent in the city and away from his rural Illinois home, he found himself back there again, split between the memories, habits, and attachment to each very different place. He writes:
Where I was living wasn’t exactly the wrong place for me, and at its core my life wasn’t drastically different, but it wasn’t home.
I came back home to live almost a decade later. I still have no idea if this time I will stay for good, I don’t know if that will ever happen.
Aside from the images themselves speaking volumes of the everyday "feel" of the Midwest -- guns, trucks, small towns, roughness, openness, natural beauty, the "simple life" -- there's something both tough and innocent about them, as if the young artist who departed his country home for the city, looking for adventure, has since returned to the country still in search of the same. There is a youthful energy to these images, one that shows how a generation of young people, online and in the media, are informed that the way to become someone or do something is to leave home behind for the big city. This isn't new. But it is the second, arguably more difficult step to which these photos speak: that of returning home after a time away in order to be the person one is, to pursue what one does, and do it in a place that is familiar, yet now seen through eyes that have previously ignored or dismissed it. The two series from which I've taken the liberty of meshing images together, Midwest Dirt and Nothing Ever Happens, give us a sense of movement between places and a means of rediscovering the once-familiar and reconciling it with everything that has changed -- including one's self.
All black and white images are from the series Midwest Dirt, and the color images are taken from the series Nothing Ever Happens. More works as well as a series of photo books are available at the artist's website, nathanpearcephoto.com.