Chelsea Sanders is a commercial and editorial photographer based in Bloomington, Indiana and is the creative force behind Blueline Media Productions. “The passion is in my soul. I’d be dead if I didn’t have an avenue or medium to get out all this nonsense in my head,” she says of her work.
A still lake. An orchard row. A sunset cornhusk. A floured wooden slab.
To a slew of young “creatives” who are choosing to stay put in midwestern cities (or return to them from coastal forays) images like these are the new signs of the midwest. These curated glimpses into simple, natural scenes constitute a well-intentioned departure from the midwest’s fast-food-eating, big-box-shopping, casserole-baking reputation. By visually refashioning the region into a pristine natural playground in digital and print media, they seem to say, “Look, coastal snobs! The midwest, too, has beauty!”
Indeed, the images are beautiful. The lake and the orchard are serene, inviting, captured in their perfect light. The husks and the slab are exalted objects, taken from mere household function into a realm of pure aesthetic form.
But something gets lost in this new midwest aesthetic—the region’s specificity, its lived cultures, the diversity of its people and scenes. What is purported to identify and define the midwest in fact feels indistinct. Latching onto a now-mainstream trend of #authentic living, these images’ insistence on simple, classic beauty whitewashes a midwest that could be shown in more multifaceted, and perhaps more interesting, lights.
For at least a decade now, we have seen the rise of “authenticity” as a style. New Yorkers invest in work boots, Carhartt jackets, and utility bags, elevating a downhome American sense of practicality into a citydweller’s luxury. The clothing trend matches a move in photography and advertising toward rustic simplicity. (Think Kinfolk magazine, which has become a touchstone for designers and creative directors.) For midwestern media to take up this style, which was to some extent already a romanticization of their region, is to peddle in an “authenticity” that was projected onto the heartland by coastal borrowers in the first place. And it is to broadcast not a place but a style.
What gets lost in that stylization is people—the kin and the folk. Who are the people at the lake—and who didn’t make it there that day? Who are the people visiting the orchard—and who owns it, who tends it, who buys the fruits of their labor? Who is husking the corn and preparing the meal? In replacing one image of the midwest with a supposedly more appealing one, the promoters of this new aesthetic leave out the specific identities, relationships, and stories that make up midwestern communities.
– Midwest native, Lindsay Welsch, currently lives in Bloomington, In. where she teaches freshman writing as a visiting lecturer at the Indiana University. She received her PHD in english in May 2015.
Isaac Smith is a multi-platform journalist living and working in southern Illinois. With a strong belief in documenting one’s own backyard, he is dedicated to telling the story of community through photographs, audio, and video. He has received honors from the Illinois Press Photographers Association and the Illinois Press Association.[/one_third][/row][/section]
Nathan Pearce is a photographer based in Southern Illinois. He also works in an auto body repair shop. “I am a photographer and also a photobook and zine maker. I do the latter because in our digital world photographs are rarely printed. There is something really special about seeing your work in print now. My work focuses on the Midwest and my experience in it,” he says of himself.
Eric Ginard is a photo editor and photojournalist working for the Joliet Herald-News on the outskirts of Chicago. He finds the most pleasure in small town atmospheres and the inspiration that hides between long stretches of road. He has worked for several publications, including the Rapid City Journal, Gillette News Record, and the Southern Illinoisan. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angels Times, CBS Evening News and WIRED magazine’s Raw File photo blog.
I recently had the pleasure of shooting youth boxing at The Warehouse in Bloomington, In. More accustomed to watching professional fights, seeing 108 lb grade school-aged kids ready to go after each other was a bit surreal.
Ryan Dorgan (b. 1987) grew up near South Bend, Ind., and graduated from the Indiana University School of Journalism. He worked for newspapers in Indiana, Vermont and New Hampshire before moving to Wyoming in 2013, where his personal work focuses on westward migration and exploring the thin line between the modern American West and the region’s romanticized past.