Waterford, Virginia

I’m spending summer 2019 researching and making work in Waterford, Virginia, the mean center of 1810. I’m grateful for the partnerships of the Waterford Foundation (WF) and the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE). The work that I make this summer will be exhibited in the fall at GRACE.

In addition to oral history interviews, portraits, and other photographs, I’m also taking the opportunity to do some aerial mapping. Here’s the first one completed, an OrthoMosaic of the Phillips Farm.

From the WF website:

In 2003, the Phillips Farm, 144 acres of farmland southwest of the village, was slated to be subdivided into multiple lots. Had that development occurred, destroying the pastoral viewshed beyond the South Fork of the Catoctin Creek, Waterford’s National Historic Landmark status would have been seriously jeopardized.

The Waterford Foundation and its many supporters secured nearly $4 million to purchase the Phillips Farm. It is now preserved as open space in agricultural use forever, through a conservation easement held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The Phillips Farm hosts Loudoun Center Apiaries and the hay fields are tended by a local farmer.

OrthoMosaic of the Phillips Farm, 144 Acres, Waterford, Virginia, 2019

OrthoMosaic of the Phillips Farm, 144 Acres, Waterford, Virginia, 2019

Centroid Towns on Bmore Art

Three glass-block windows on the side of a Dollar General in Olney, Illinois, glow red, white — or rather a yellowed, dirtied, aged white — and blue. Olney was one stop for photographer Nate Larson’s ongoing project to document “centroid” towns, points that have been designated by the Census Bureau as the “mean center of population in the United States.” Since the very first one was located in Chestertown, Maryland, in 1790, the points, of which there have been 25 to date, have moved steadily southwest over the years. The centroid is hypothetical, based on a physical and geographical impossibility: if all persons tallied in the census were weighted equally across an imaginary, flat map, the centroid would mark the point where this map would balance perfectly.

Larson has been documenting and researching these towns since 2014, partly to record and understand something about the American political hellscape in which so many of us are trying to live. The documentarian angle lets the photos’ messaging remain somewhat frustratingly subtle.

A surreal picture of broken industry, “Site of the Former Shoe Company, De Soto, Missouri” depicts mountains of telephones, disconnected from their cords and off their hooks, pile up inside of a decrepit warehouse, surrounded by fallen beams and meaty, pink insulation innards. The antiquated, useless phones signal the absurdity of waste; the mismatch between the photo’s title and subject suggest the ongoing cycles of stagnation, change and reuse in industrial spaces.

Three out of the four small photos of signs from Missouri, Indiana, and Maryland seem like responses to the first one, which advocates for Christianity and exhorts its viewer to “THINK AMERICAN” and “SPEAK ENGLISH.” The one to its right features a hand-scrawled version of the Gettysburg Address taped to a window. Another sign, on cardboard tacked to the side of a porch, champions love in spite of an “evil and unloving society,” and the fourth photo is of a kind-hearted, if blasé, church marquee, “DO UNTO OTHERS AS THOUGH YOU WERE THE OTHERS.”

A few of Larson’s portraits of residents, which are also portraits of places, are particularly striking — like these two side-by-side portraits of Juanita from De Soto, Missouri, and Ron of Fenton, Missouri. Ron hangs out of a doorway, staring straight into the camera, stepping into an entryway or a mudroom. Larson must have taken the photo through a glass door; Ron’s worn, pinkish face refracts through it and reappears on the image’s right side, this time seeming less confrontational and more weary or concerned. In the other photo Juanita, a tiny old woman in a lilac T-shirt, stands behind a cash register, surrounded by various sun-bleached signs advertising the prices of the shop’s chicken gizzards, livers, and “drummies.” Juanita takes up so little space in that composition, I find myself searching every detail around her — trying to comprehend less of the individual folks photographed and more of the environment and the structures that composed them. (Rebekah Kirkman)

Centroid Towns in the Baltimore Sun

The photographer Nate Larson is on a quest to, as he puts it, “get closer to the real.”

In 2014, Larson, 40, embarked on a project he expects will take him years to complete — photographing life in the roughly two dozen cities and towns that since 1790 have served as U.S. population medians.

Each decade, census officials designate a residential center, the point through which a north-south line and an east-west line would cross, dividing the total number of Americans in half. In 1790, that epicenter was Chestertown, and each decade since, it has drifted to the southwest. In 1800, the midpoint was in Ellicott City; after that it left Maryland for good. By 2020, the median is projected to be near Hartville, Mo.

Initially, the westward pull resulted from the nation’s rapid geographic expansion. Now, Larson thinks, it’s caused by the influx of mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants into such states as Texas and California.

A musical lineup with no scrubs: TLC to headline Artscape 2018 in Baltimore
“The current administration wants to add a citizenship question to the census,” he said. “If that goes through, I’m curious whether that will mean that the center of the population shifts farther east.”

Larson, a member of the photography faculty at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, has been a finalist for the Artscape Prize twice before.

He began by visiting each epicenter briefly, and has spent up to a month in four. He gets to know the landscape and residents before creating intimate documentary-style images. (Some aerial shots are filmed with a drone.) Eventually, he will also collect oral histories. The Sondheim show includes photographs taken in seven median cities, including Ellicott City.

“The current administration has shaken up my notion of our national identity,” he said.

”I wanted to get the real sense of the country — not that there’s any one ‘real.’ I’m trying to understand what America is in 2018 and how the current presidential administration does or does not reflect that.”

Jeffrey Wolin

Jeffrey Wolin, Blockmarker Larry Anderson of B.G. Hoadley Quarries , 1983

Jeffrey Wolin, Blockmarker Larry Anderson of B.G. Hoadley Quarries , 1983

Grateful to have been able to attend a panel conversation between Jeffrey Wolin, Scott Russell Sanders, and Amy Brier moderated by Yael Ksander at the FAR center for Contemporary Arts. Jeffrey and Scott spent time with quarry laborers in 1983 and then again in 2015, documenting the folks that worked in the limestone industry near Bloomington. They published a book of their efforts, Stone Country: Then and Now, recently re-released in a new edition. 


Municipal Art Society of Baltimore City Artist Travel Prize

I'm very pleased to announce that the project has been awarded a Municipal Art Society of Baltimore City Artist Travel Prize to support the next phase of development. The travel prize will fund fieldwork in two small towns in Indiana to examine the ways in which they have been affected by immigration and incarceration. Please stay tuned for travelogue and new work updates!

Visiting Nathan Pearce in Southern Illinois

Photographer Nathan Pearce was kind enough to meet me for dinner in Olney, Illinois. It was great chatting about the Centroid Towns project and hearing about his latest iterations of Midwest Dirt. I'm quite taken with his photographs and they've been influential in my thinking on representing life in small midwestern towns. Y'all should pick up a copy of Midwest Dirt or his other artist books.

Nathan Pearce, from Midwest Dirt

Nathan Pearce, from Midwest Dirt

Nathan also indulged my need to photograph Olney's Dollar General at dusk for the typology of Dollar Generals in Centroid Towns. 

Dollar General, Olney, Illinois, 2017

Visiting John Bayler in Southern Illinois

Had a great visit with photographer John Bayler, who was kind enough to take some time to show me around Flora, Louisville, and Ingraham, Illinois. We took my drone up for some aerial photography, including a dirt racetrack just outside of Louisville. It was great meeting John and I look forward to keeping in touch.


New Work from De Soto Posted

Nykie, Juliette, and Connor at the Jefferson County Fair, Hillsboro, Missouri, 2017

Nykie, Juliette, and Connor at the Jefferson County Fair, Hillsboro, Missouri, 2017

Just posted new work from De Soto, Missouri under the De Soto tab. Many thanks to all the residents that allowed me into their lives and generously shared their time and stories with me.

New Work from Mascoutah Posted

Jack with Doll House, Mascoutah, Illinois, 2017

Jack with Doll House, Mascoutah, Illinois, 2017

Just posted new work from Mascoutah, Illinois under the Mascoutah tab. Many thanks to all the residents that allowed me into their lives and generously shared their time and stories with me.

In addition to the photographs, many folks allowed me to record our conversations, giving deeper insight into their communities and town. With something like 25 hours of tape, it will take me some time to wade through all that, but I hope to share excepts in the near future. 

Artist Residency at Paul Artspace

Nate and Mike Behle testing out the new drone

Nate and Mike Behle testing out the new drone

I am delighted to be an artist-in-residence at Paul Artspace in Saint Louis for the month of June. This residency will give me proximity to do a deeper dive into the nearby communities of Mascoutah, Illinois and De Soto, Missouri. 

I'll be posting work-in-progress to my Instagram account with the hashtag #CentroidTowns. Hope that y'all can follow along. If you live or work near STL, I would love to connect and share some BBQ.

Thanks for a great show opening at 'Sindikit!

Thanks to all who came out for the opening of "Watershed Moment: A Centroid Towns Project" at 'Sindikit in Baltimore last night! Lots of great conversations ensued around responsible development, stream capacity, and other issues discussed in the project.