Friday, January 27, 2012

White House Rural Conversation: #WHChat

Folks, we've been slow with articles and correspondence this week due to another series of technical issues. We'll be back to normal form this weekend.

Importantly, today one of President Obama's senior advisors is presiding over a Twitter discussion on rural issues this morning at 10am EST [#WHChat]. More information can be found on The Daily Yonder

Let's share our voices and our perspectives!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Update: The Black Hills Are Not For Sale

Mural Installation on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles; Honor The Treaties Facebook Page

Last year we discussed Honor The Treaties, a promising collaboration between photographer Aaron Huey, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and a host of urban and indigenous street artists. 

Today we have more information on the latest developments in this project which crosses all kinds of generational, regional, and rural-urban lines. Here's video the recent Shepard Fairey installation on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, followed by Mr. Huey's brief summary of the project:

The Black Hills Are Not For Sale from sinuhe xavier on Vimeo.
“The Black Hills are not for sale!”  is a common rallying cry for Treaty rights on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

In 1980 The longest running court case in U.S. history, the Sioux Nation v. the United States, was ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court.The court determined that, when the Sioux were resettled onto reservations and seven million acres of their land were opened up to prospectors and homesteaders, the terms of the second Fort Laramie treaty had been violated. The court stated that the Black Hills were illegally taken and that the initial offering price plus interest should be paid to the Sioux Nation. As payment for the Black Hills, the court awarded only 106 million dollars to the Sioux Nation. The Sioux refused the money with the rallying cry, “The Black Hills are not for sale.”

The United States continues on a daily basis to violate the terms of the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties with the Lakota. The call to action I offer today is this: Honor the treaties.  Give back the Black Hills.  It’s not our business what they do with them.

My goal is to amplify the voices of my many Lakota friends and family on Pine Ridge, all of whom have advised me on this campaign.

Aaron Huey
Ernesto Yerena signing copies of his contributions to the project

More information, as well as downloadable images for wheat pasting, can be found at Honor The Treaties. The organization also hosts a Facebook page (where many more images and videos can be found), as well as a tumblr page.

Related Articles:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Almanac For Moderns: Rejoicing In The Noon Mercy

[More information on our Almanac For Moderns project and the work of Donald Culross Peattie can be found here.]

January Twenty-First

I wonder how much of fatality has come to the birds in the past week that I have been house-bound, while storm after storm swept the fields and woods, with alternate thaws followed cruelly by sleet. The papers tell of airplanes brought down with their fuselage ice-incrusted. It is not the cold that kills the birds, and somewhere, somehow, they always manage to find forage; it is winter rains that ground them too. For the titmouse that I come on stone dead in the woods, how many more small winged creatures are lying for the hawks and weasels to find, in the hills and on the fields!

Yet today, when I trudge abroad, just breaking through the stubborn crust at each tiring step, I hear the brave whistling and clinking notes of many little birds rejoicing in the noon mercy - though the mercury is below zero. I turn this way and that, trying to see them, but wherever I look the intolerable glare of the crusted snow, of the trees glittering in the silver mail, parries my sight like a cutting sword I cannot look into the eye of this ice-armored day; I can only bow my head and listen attentively, to the small indomitable voices of tree sparrows, white-throats and chickadees, ringing as bright and delicate as frost crystals become audible on the tingling air.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Jetsonorama Panorama

Many thanks to Gary O'Brien for contacting us and sharing this interactive panorama from Jetsonorama's wheat paste installation in Cameron, Arizona.

What's striking about this technology is that it not only gives depth and dimension to Jetsonorama's work, but it reveals how these installations stand as monuments in a sparsely developed landscape - as these representations of folks from the artist's community float luminously beneath a crystal-clear night sky.

Mr. O'Brien is an award-winning photo-journalist currently working Tuscon, Arizona. His site also features some multimedia reporting on a wide range of subjects, as well as a portfolio of work that meditates on natural space and then applies that same compositional sense to domestic scenes. He also spent a portion of 2005 school year with a class of fifth-graders, and the photo-essays and audio work to emerge from that time is particularly moving - and suggests a collaborative model for other artists and community members. 

Related Articles:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Contexts: Invisible Cities, Invisible Country

From the ruins of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, Saint Louis; Strange Harvest

Today we present an entry from Invisible Cities, one of the most heralded works of fabulist fiction composed by the European writer Italo Calvino (1923-1985).

Born to prominent agricultural scientists, Mr. Calvino spent his youth on a farm behind the hills of San Remo. He would often climb the trees around the farm and perch for hours on their branches - enjoying a perspective, and a kind of creative solitude, that would provide a lasting metaphor for his fiction. 

Invisible Cities is a book with few peers. In short dispatches almost resembling flash-fiction, we walk into a story of how Marco Polo describes for Kublai Khan the features and limits of his empire, just as it is beginning to crumble around him. These reports, heavily influenced by Calvino's interest in folk tales, demonstrate a particular and agricultural eye for detail and deep history, as well as a sense of spatial relationships that speaks to how his formative years were spent outside of the city walls, in spiritual company with Marco Polo. The rural, and the even the agrarian, influence on his work is often not discussed, though its presence lingers:

Cities & Memory 3

In vain, great-hearted Kublai, shall I attempt to describe Zaira, city of high bastions. I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades’ curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already kknow this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lampost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper’s swaying feet; the line strung from the lampost to th erailing opposite and the festoons that decorate the course of the queen’s nuptial procession; the height of that railing and the leap of the adulterer who climbed over it at dawn; the tilt of a guttering and a cat’s progress along it as he slips into the same window; the firing range of a gunboat which has suddenly appeared beyond the cape and the bomb that destroys the guttering; the rips in the fish net and the three old men seated on the dock mending nets and telling each other for the hundredth time the story of the gunboat of the usurper, who some say was the queen’s illegitimate son, abandoned in his swaddling clothes there on the dock.

As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands. A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira’s past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightening rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.

This entertaining and contrary interview with Gore Vidal also helps to explain this "universal" writer; he also briefly touches on the influence of growing up among agriculturalists:

Related Articles:
Contexts: How A Magnet Changed A Village

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In Defense of Rural Post Offices: Stories And Media

Selection from a mural inside the Ukiah, CA post office, which closed January 6th

Today we have some updates on the valuable artistic and cultural work addressing the proposed closings of post offices, a move which will disproportionately affect rural communities.

Sylvia Ryerson of WMMT, with Mimi Pickering of the Appalshop Community Media Initiative, produced an excellent 20 minute radio piece that takes the time to sit down with postal workers and their communities - and to hear about the palpable human relatioships which orbit around, and are cultivated by, their town's post office. In many of these communities, these are the last meeting places left - and the last operating public space with a rooted connection to the history and culture:
As the U.S. Postal Service faces financial crisis, Central Appalachia and much of rural America may be hard hit by pending closures of post offices and mail processing centers.  To avoid bankruptcy, the Postal Service had announced plans to make reductions amounting to approximately $3 billion.  Such drastic cuts would result in slower first class delivery and close hundreds of mail facilities nationwide.  After public and Congressional outcry, USPS announced a moratorium on closures until May 15, 2012. In this expanded WMMT report customers at the Burdine and Premium post offices, two of the nine in Letcher County, KY on the closure list, describe what the service means to their communities while officials from the USPS and the American Postal Workers Union offer differing solutions to the Postal Service financial crisis.
More Than Mail: Rural Postal Service Threatened by Mimi Pickering
This radio piece is also an effort of Making Connections, a multi-media production of the Appalshop Community Media Institute with a mission to serve as a platform "for sharing news, stories, and information highlighting opportunities and challenges for building a healthy future for Appalachia's people and land." Their deep archives offer a diverse range of stories - from local tax reform to horticulture, agriculture to photography.

These media-makers are also utilizing PlaceStories, an interactive multimedia mapping site, to reach folks from across rural America and hear their thoughts on the importance of their local post offices. This project is linked to the extraordinary Save the Post Office, which offers a range of reports and cultural perspectives far too diverse to accurately summarize in this space - though folks should give a read to the photo-essay on the Alplaus (NY) post office available via the extraordinary Going Postal site. 

For much more information on the challenges facing rural post offices, we recommend (as always) visits to the archives of The Daily Yonder and The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issue's Rural Blog.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Art Of The Flyover

False-color composite aerial map outside Garden City, Kansas; Wired

Who says there's no contemporary art in the heartland? Wired magazine offers these images taken by NASA and USGS satellites, which capture crop and irrigation patterns across the rural international. 

Betsy Mason explains, with larger, high-resolution images available by following the link:
The image above, taken by the USGS' Landsat 7 satellite on Sept. 25, 2000, is a false-color composite made using data from near infrared, red and green wavelengths and sharpened with a panchromatic sensor. The red areas actually represent the greenest vegetation. Bare soil or dead vegetation ranges from white to green or brown.

The image below is a simulated true-color shot from the same county in Kansas taken June 24, 2001 by NASA's Terra satellite. Bright greens are healthy, leafy crops such as corn; sorghum would be less mature at this time of year and probably a bit paler; wheat is ready for harvest and appears a bright gold; brown fields have been recently harvested. The circles are perfectly round and measure a mile or a half mile in diameter.
True-color imagery of Garden City, Kansas

As Wendell Berry asserts in Standing By Words, much of the arts now mirror commercial rhetoric, in that each forthcoming series of paintings, each new collection of songs or poems by a given artist must feature "new and improved" style - a misreading, Mr. Berry argues, of Ezra Pound's dictum "make it new."

It is interesting, then, to compare these images to the work of Damien Hirst, whose spot-paintings are currently on view worldwide, across all 11 Gagosian galleries. 

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986 – 2011 (New York gallery); Mary Altaffer

Much is made of these works (Hirst's assistants actually "paint" these paintings) and their multi-million dollar auction prices, yet there's an irony in comparing these images - each geometric patterns that represent collaborative efforts aided by the latest precision technologies. The deeper irony, depending on which regions are captured in such satellite photography, is that the land illustrated within the frame is worth far more than Mr. Hirtst's spot paintings. Perhaps Gagosian should open up a gallery in Cedar Rapids.

Below we will offer a few more of these stunning aerial images. To further consider these connections, please visit the Rural American Contemporary Artists group and check out their current exhibit. Many thanks to Kelly Green for leading us to the article in Wired.

Pasture and logged acreage in Bolivia

The Al Khufrah Oasis irrigation project in Libya

Related Articles:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Walking and Singing With Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King joining The March Against Fear, 1966

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
     - Martin Luther King, Strength to Love

In celebration of this year's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, a "national day on," we will offer some material throughout the day to help consider the legacy of MLK and his enduring message for all Americans.

Even beyond the powerful social change created through the efforts such as The March Against Fear, which crossed the length of rural Mississippi, there's a profound metaphor at work, as these brave Americans pushed at regional, rural, and urban boundaries - and linked communities across the country through a shared belief in human dignity.

And the annual commemorations on this day remind us that there's much more work to be done. Here's John Lewis and Harris Wofford, some of the congressional leaders responsible for officially transforming MLK Day from a holiday to a day of service. Please follow this link to find opportunities to volunteer:

• Smithsonian Folkways' Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960-1966 contains many songs that may have been heard by Dr. King and his fellow marchers on that day in rural Mississippi when the photograph above was taken. Here's one selection from that recording: "Lord Hold My Hand While I Run This Race:"

• Here's a powerful link between John Coltrane (born in Hamlet, North Carolina), Dr. King, and the lives of four girls lost in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963:

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Weekly Feed: January Twelfth

Wendell and Tanya Berry in The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater; Ralph Eugene Meatyard

Lisa Pruitt of Legal Ruralism - an Ozark native and a law professor at UC-Davis - visited Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on its opening day, and she contributes this reading of what the space offers, and what it might lack:
[Ada Smith of The New York Times] mentions an interesting gap in the Crystal Bridges collection--indeed an ironic one: "the almost complete lack of paintings by largely self-taught or folk artists."
This omission is especially noteworthy because rural America is so often associated with the common man, as well as with other connotations of folksy.
And, indeed, the museum is reaching out to the "common man" or--more precisely--the common child. Smith notes the museum's "ambitious education program, which will reach out to more than 80,000 elementary students in the area."
• Producers Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center and the What's In A Song project recently shared this moving story about a singing group formed by friends of folklorist Barre Toelken to help him re-learn the nearly 800 songs he lost after his stroke. The piece originally aired last weekend on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, and can be heard here
"I used to know 800 songs," Toelken says. "I had this stroke, and I had none of these songs left in my head. None of them were left."
But, Toelken says, he soon discovered that, with a little positive reinforcement, he could remember some of the forgotten music after all.
"A little bit at a time, I realized I still had the songs in my head," he says. "So now I meet with this group of friends once a week a week, and we sing.
Kyle Munson of The Des Moines Register is one of our favorite journalists - he covers the wide panorama of Iowa with great insight and creativity. This week he traversed the state on a "full Grassley" tour of all 99 counties, taking stock of the state of Iowa after the Republican primaries and the fallout from Stephen Bloom's article in The Atlantic. Folks can read his latest report from the road here; his Facebook page also contains extra photographs from this Midwestern Odyssey.
I’m following the shortest possible path through all 99 counties, roughly counterclockwise around the state with the start and finish line both in Des Moines. As I type this Tuesday afternoon, I’ve hit 15 counties — or about 406 out of 2,738 miles on the official GPS itinerary.
Unlike a presidential candidate, I don’t have the benefit of a hired driver, plush bus or quick-fire stump speech. It also takes time to pry introspective views from Iowans in each county with persistent questions.
But also unlike a candidate, I’m not using these 99 counties as a steppingstone. My simple goal is to glean a more precise, updated sense of the state at the start of a new year.
• In the land where the pastoral genre began over two millennia ago, young Greeks are leaving Athens and returning to the rural. Here's Rachel Donadio writing in The New York Times:
Nikos Gavalas and Alexandra Tricha, both 31 and trained as agriculturalists, were frustrated working on poorly paying, short-term contracts in Athens, where jobs are scarce and the cost of living is high. So last year, they decided to start a new project: growing edible snails for export. 
As Greece’s blighted economy plunges further into the abyss, the couple are joining with an exodus of Greeks who are fleeing to the countryside and looking to the nation’s rich rural past as a guide to the future. They acknowledge that it is a peculiar undertaking, with more manual labor than they, as college graduates, ever imagined doing. But in a country starved by austerity even as it teeters on the brink of default, it seemed as good a gamble as any. 
• We learned from The Rural Blog of Honest Appalachia, a wikileaks-inspired site working to increase transparency in Appalachia and "to assist and protect whistleblowers who wish to reveal proof of corporate and government wrongdoing to citizens throughout the region."

The National Council For The Traditional Arts posted video to their Facebook page of Los Texmaniacs, who "combine a hefty helping of Tex Mex conjunto, simmer with several parts Texas rock, add a daring dash of well-cured blues, and R&B riffs," as these musicians describe their unique groove:

The Big Read Blog offers some links to consider the presence of immigrants in Willa Cather's My Ántonia:
When Cather published My Ántonia in 1918, the book was a major departure from the literary trends of the day. She not only strayed from the urban settings and themes that were fashionable at the time, but her characters were also new to contemporary American fiction—they were common folks and, even rarer for the time, many of them were immigrants, all presented with genuine dignity.
The links above include an audio guide and documentary that also features the perspective of the real-life Ántonia's granddaughter.

• If you are currently digging out from the first winter snow of the year, then Sara Jenkins's article in The Atlantic on the art of picking olives in an Etruscan hill town will be a welcome respite. On the subject of rural-international terroir, folks may be interested in Extra Virginity, a new non-fiction book on the history, culture, and industrialization of olive oil by Tom Mueller. NPR's Fresh Air sat down for a fascinating conversation with him in November; a trailer for the book project is included below:

• The header image for this Weekly Feed comes from Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-1972), a prolific photographer born who was born in Normal, Illinois but spent the majority of his life in Lexington Kentucky. He worked as an optician during the week, but, when the weekend came, Mr. Meatyard produced some of the most singular photography of the last century: intimate, irreverent, and at times terrifying. 

The artist collaborated with many members of that era's extraordinary arts scene in Kentucky - folks such as Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, and Guy Davenport. Much of his photography used the abandoned homes and farms as settings, and Mr. Meatyard also collaborated with Mr. Berry on The Unforeseen Wilderness: Kentucky's Red River Gorge

After news of a cancer diagnosis, the photographer devoted the remainder of his days to The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater, which featured his children and his friends wearing plastic masks and posing in normal situations. Though the idea of such a series might sound bizarre, the totality of this project offers a moving meditation on friendship, family, and mortality.

Unfortunately, though Mr. Meatyard's photography is becoming more widely known, no central site yet exists in which to discover the breadth of his work. The International Center for Photography housed and exhibition in 2004 that offers the best resources yet - and a little research here, as well as a Google image search, will reveal startling results.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Multitudes: Singing Woody Guthrie's Lost Lyrics

The cover art for New Multitudes; Rounder Records

As we've mentioned previously, 2012 marks the centennial of Woody Gutrie's birth.

We've just learned more about one of the birthday year's most anticipated releases: New Multitiudes, an effort that pairs unpublished lyrics from The Woody Guthrie archives with new music. A band comprised of luminaries has reimagined this material: Jay Farrar (of Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo), Yim Yames (or, Jim James of My Morning Jacket), Will Johnson (Centro-matic frontman), and Anders Parker (of Gob Iron and Varnaline).

A first cut from the record, "Old L.A." is now available. Lead vocals here are covered by Anders Parker:

Old LA by FarrarJohnsonParkerYames

The accompanying press release offers some context, and also helps illuminate the turmoil and disconnection between the instrumentation and the lyrics, which comes to also stand for the tumultuous circumstances of Guthrie's at the time:
Under the invitation of Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, to tour the Guthrie archives, each of the four songwriters were offered the chance to plumb and mine the plethora of notebooks, scratch pads, napkins, etc. for anything that might inspire them to lend their voices and give the words new life. “These guys worked on an amazing group of lyrics, much of it culled from Woody’s times in LA. Lyric wise, it’s a part of the story that is still mostly unknown. From Woody’s experiences on LA’s skid row to his later years in Topanga Canyon, they are uniquely intimate, and relate two distinctly emotional periods in his life.”
The Library of Congress American Memory archives offer an overview of Woody Guthrie's sojourn in Los Angeles, where he performed on local radio station KFVD. His songwriting from this era sought to present the realities, and not the popular myths, of life in the golden west during the Depression:
Although the perceptions of California as a land of unmitigated opportunity had brought a rush of agricultural laborers from the South and Southwest in the mid-1930s, the reality was quite different. The great farms that stretched across California's rich valleys did need pickers, but so many hands were available that wages were pushed steadily downward, even if a family could find steady employment harvesting the state's many seasonal crops. The pickers lived in their cars, tents, or shacks they built out of whatever materials they could find. These camps were sometimes called "Hoovervilles" and the people in them "Okies."
Although Woody never lived in one of these camps, he did make his way to California as a "Dust Bowl refugee" and traveled around the state singing to the migrant laborers during the spring of 1938. He also sang at government camps that gave these people some measure of dignity, health, and safety.
New Multitudes will be released on February 28 in both a standard or deluxe 2CD format, and will also be available on vinyl. To learn more, visit the New Multitudes Facebook page and follow along with the year's festivities on the official centennial site.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The People Speak: New Work From Jetsonorama

Wheat paste of CJ at the Tuba City, AZ, rodeo grounds on fair day; Jetsonorama

Where else would you find a black guy applying wallpaper to the outside of an outhouse at 7 in the morning at a rodeo on an indian reservation?  Only in America.
     - Fred, a stock contractor, to Jetsonorama

We're back today with an update on Jetsonorama's most recent work, which emerges out of the Navajo Nation and crosses all kinds of rural-urban and rural-international boundaries. We've written before on the context and process behind these wheatepaste murals, so please refer to those related articles below, and please also visit Jetsonorama's site for larger, high-resolution examples of these images.

The artist at work recently in Phoenix; Jetsonorama

Here's an excerpt from Jetsonorama's statement on how the "The People Speak" series began. This confluence of art and environmental action has continued across mediums, from the reservation to the city:

i'd been talking with my buddy + fellow photographer, activist, q, about doing street art to raise awareness around the use of reclaimed waste water on the peaks.  it's like, we've got the means to craft the message about the desecration of a sacred space and a method for disseminating that message, let's use it.
then one day while driving to flagstaff it hit me.  i wanted to use images of elders to express how they felt about the situation.  then, whatever they said, i'd excerpt a bit to write on their faces.  now, what elders do i know who will let me do that?  photographer, artist, activist, sam minkler was the first person i thought of.  i called him by antelope hills, just north of town, and less than 2 hours later we'd knocked his session out.
sam said "...faces are sacred.  faces are beautiful.  we walk on the face of the earth.  the mountain is a beautiful, sacred place that needs to be protected.  in beauty i walk."
A wide range of artists, musicians, and everyday citizens have volunteered their time and their words to the project. Folks can visit and Indigenous Action Media for more information on efforts to keep this reclaimed waste water off the peaks.

Sam Minkler; Jetsonorama

Klee Benally and Princess; Jetsonorama

John Running, Sam Minkler and Stephanie Jackson; Jetsonorama

Jetsonorama recently added installations at The Hive gallery in Phoenix for their "Rezolution" show:

J.B. on the wall outside The Hive; Jetsonorama

 From the roof; Jetsonorama

A shot from the interior installation; Jetsonorama

Related Articles:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What's The Matter With Iowa: The Oxford Project

Ben Stoker photographed in The Oxford Project; Peter Feldstein 

I love you all. I love Oxford. And I’ll never leave — except in a box.
     - Peter Feldstein, speaking at the book launch for The Oxford Project

While Stephen Bloom's article in The Atlantic, "Observations from 20 years of Iowa Life" has since brought the state into an uproar, sent the professor into hiding, and placed, at the very least, his good standing at the University of Iowa in question, there's a less-reported cause for sadness beneath all of this - and it concerns the small town of Oxford, Iowa.

In 2008 Mr. Bloom contributed interviews to The Oxford Project, a stunning series of photographic portraits by Peter Feldstein that capture the lives of nearly every resident in town on two separate occasions in 1984 and 2004. Mr. Feldstein moved to Oxford in the late 1970's and has since become part of the fabric of the community.

Both the book and exhibition received rave reviews, for what The Washington Post called the glimpse of a people "paired with themselves in an eerie and beautiful reckoning with the past." To complement the intimacy of Mr. Feldstein's work, Stephen Bloom interviewed each subject at length, letting these citizens tell their own stories of their lives and their community. 

Here's the two artists in conversation with Josh Landis of CBS Sunday Morning

Considering the way citizens of Oxford must have let Stephen Bloom into their lives only makes the controversy surrounding his article more tragic. Placed alongside The Oxford Project, "Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life" comes across as a cavalier and self-serving monologue, a hollow caricature of a far more complex picture.

Certainly no one would understand this better than Peter Feldstein, who has written one of the most powerful rebuttals, published recently in The Des Moines Register. I'll include a few short excerpts alongside a few of his photographs; please visit The Oxford Project and Peter Feldstein's site for larger high-resolution images :

Calvin Colony
I don't know what happened to Bloom between the making of “The Oxford Project” and his online article. What happened to the grit and strength of people attempting to survive the hardships that life presents them?

Hunter Tandy
What happened to the intelligence of people like Oxford’s Kathy Tandy, the wonderful sense of humor of people like Jim Jiras, the generosity of so many of my neighbors like Tonya Stratton Wehrle, the experiences of people who’ve suffered unspeakable horrors like Jim Hoyt and his son, Jim Jr., and the difficult life transitions met with great perseverance by people like Ben and Robin Stoker and grandparents Kathy and Darrell Lindley? What about the incredible and real family values of the Cox, Hennes, Stratton and Stockman families?

Brianne Leckness

Jim Hoyt, Jr.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What's The Matter With Iowa? [Part 1]

Stephen Bloom in the classroom; Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada Reno

I’m sorry; this is the way I do it. This is called satire. This is called parody.
     - Stephen Bloom, interviewed on NBC's Rock Center

Many readers may already be familiar with the controversy that has been brewing in Iowa over the last few weeks, all of which began with the publication of University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom's "Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life" on The Atlantic site. The piece purports to be a pre-caucus overview of the political and cultural terrain of the state, but even a cursory reading suggests something more mean-spirited and off-balance:
But relatively few rural Iowans are employed in the business of wind energy. The bulk of jobs here are low-income ones most Iowans don't want. Many have simply packed up and left the state (which helps keep the unemployment rate statewide low). Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in education) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that "The sun'll come out tomorrow."
There's no shortage of reporting and commentary to emerge in the wake of Mr. Bloom's piece: The Cedar Rapids Gazette offers a run-down of the published responses, as does The Atlantic itself, in the link presented above. 

While a valid set of observations lay beneath the piece's hyperbole, what's perhaps most upsetting in the post-publication media attention is how Mr. Bloom asserts its satiric virtue. While it's hard not to see the barely-concealed statements of superiority (the author was born in New York, educated in California and has lived in many "foreign countries"), it's even harder to reasonably place the piece's indebtedness to the satiric tradition of a writer such as Mark Twain, whom Mr. Bloom mentions in his piece. 

The problem, of course, with this defense is that the professor is no longer offering such rationalizations to nineteen year-old students, but to reporters and commentators with a grasp of the tradition:

Not only this, but it pits a professor with a traditional journalistic upbringing against an insurgent movement of new media artists and practitioners. Iowans who would have traditionally only been students in his classes can now assert their perspective. As the two examples below illustrate, this generation understands the new rules of engagement, and this new media-language, perhaps better than their professor.

For instance, the artists and entrepreneurs of Iowa City's Raygun have already détourned Mr. Bloom's words:

The Iowa Filmmakers also created this response both to Stephen Bloom and mainstream media coverage during the caucus; the video has since gone viral, and the "clean" version is presented below, though be warned that the censor missed a few offending words:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Weekend Song: Napolian Strickland

Napolian Strickland on fife, R.L. Boyce on snare drum, Othar Turner dancing; Blues Unlimited

Yesterday the Alan Lomax Archive Channel offered an update with a distinctive video of Napolian Strickland singing and providing his own accompaniment on the diddley-bow:

As the notes inform us, "Jesus Stop By Here" is "a variant of "Jesus Won't You Come By Here" or "Daniel In the Lion's Den,'" and the footage was filmed by Alan Lomax, John Bishop and Worth Long in 1978. Mr. Strickland, like Fred McDowell and a host of other Mississippi blues luminaries, hailed from the town of Como. 

Folks can head over to the Association for Cultural Equity to learn more about Mr. Lomax's work in this region, and the excellent Folkstreams site offers The Land Where the Blues Began, the film from which this outtake emerges.

In addition to this, The Cascade Blues Association offers an introduction to Mr. Strickland's work, a portion of which is included below:
Of all the traditional styles of Blues music being played today, perhaps the fife and drum bands of Northern Mississippi just may have the deepest roots. The percussive sounds are almost a direct link back to the Western Coast of Africa, where slave traders took their heaviest toll; a land where stringed gourds, woodwind instruments and drums played a major role within the communities, and the memories continued with the poor souls being brought to a new land. The fife and drum bands thrived in the Hill Country of Mississippi for many years, with standout performers such as Sid Hemphill and his granddaughter, Jesse Mae, Ed Young and Othar Turner. But, as the practitioners of this music have been passing on, the tradition appears to be dying.
Another key member of the fife and drum family departed this world on July 21, 2001, as Napolian Strickland died following a stroke. Strickland was arguably the premier fife player of the genre, having appeared at numerous festivals, on several recorded compilations and on film in the documentary, "The Land Where The Blues Began".