Wednesday, 23 August 2017


At last, my copy of the reprinted edition of Nancy Rexroth's Iowa has finally arrived. Announced for publication in April way back in March, that release date has been revised five times since. No doubt there were production problems, but I was happy to wait. The original and only previous edition was published back in 1977, after all.

If you've never come across this much-imitated and influential body of work before, you may well find it of little interest. But if you have then, like me, you've probably been trying to get hold of a decent copy for decades. They're around, but forty-year-old paperbacks tend not to wear well, and the good ones are very over-priced. This University of Texas hardback reprint is beautifully done, and if you want one I recommend you get a copy as soon as you can: it's bound to sell out quickly.

So what's the big deal? Well, I think of Iowa as the photo-book equivalent of a cult album like The Velvet Underground & Nico, or Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left, or maybe even more appropriately Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day. That is, a one-off gem produced before the wider world was ready for it, but which has subsequently come to exercise a deep influence on other practitioners, and whose rarity makes it much sought-after by collectors. The headline is that Rexroth used a plastic-lensed "Diana" camera to make her pictures: the whole "toy camera" aesthetic starts here. But more important is her deliberate use of lo-fi, repetitive means to evoke complex and fleeting emotional responses, a sort of antidote to the photographic obsession with cold technical perfection and single, stand-out images. In fact, virtually none of the photographs were actually made in the state named in the title: this book is an act of conjuration, the desire and pursuit of her own private Idaho Iowa. The book is also a model of how to sequence your work so that it can become greater than the sum of its parts.

Having made her seminal contribution, Nancy Rexroth vanished from the photographic scene, rather like Vashti Bunyan, only to re-emerge from a parallel life 40 years later to find that she had become famous in her absence. She now has a website here, where you can read about the book and see the whole of the work.

"Turkeys Advance", Albany, Ohio 1973
from Iowa


amolitor said...

It is a depressing reality of the business that they felt the need to fluff it up with extra pictures and an essay by another photographer.

I generally despise the obligatory guest essay, probably because nobody ever asks me to write one.

Mike C. said...

And by Alec Soth, of all people...

Never mind, at least it's well done and reasonably priced. By contrast, price-wise, check out the reprint of that other 1970's collector's delight, Lee Friedlander's "The American Monument". Mind you, I've never actually even seen one of those.

Oh, and they will, Oscar, they will...