Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Oxford Project

I attended the Oxford Project reading on Sunday, Sept 28 at the Englert. Here’s the premise for all who don’t know.
Peter Feldstein, former art professor at the University of Iowa, photographed the 670 residents of his hometown Oxford, Iowa mainly because he could. He took one exposure of each person against a black backdrop. He didn’t tell them what to wear or how to stand. They came as they were. 20 years later, Feldstein returned to the project. He re-photographed the residents who had remained in town but this time he involved another, more vocal medium. Stephen Bloom, journalism professor at the University of Iowa, came along and interviewed 300 of the residents, collecting their stories for narratives that would later appear along side the people’s photos in the form of a book.
Iowa City residents read the narratives of the Oxford people captured in the book. Some were funny. Some were heart felt. Some were slightly shocking. The photographs of the real Oxford residents were projected behind the readers. Afterwards there was a talk with Feldstein and Bloom orated by Paul from Prairie Lights. The talk was a bit redundant. Everything they said had already been heard. The idea was simple but brilliant. Photograph small town people and tell their stories.
The one problem I encountered was the framing of the narratives. The photographs were simple; there was no decision to be made as to which exposure to use. But the narratives we spliced from the best and most interesting parts of the interviews, creating perhaps a different, more interesting story then what would have been there otherwise. I suppose this can’t be helped. I think Bloom was careful with his depictions and aware of the consequences. All in all, I’m asking for the book for Christmas. It looks like a wonderful mix between art and life.

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