Rexroth preserves moments and scenes others might never notice or reject as unworthy of record. [...] This is a feminine eye and a brave one. She takes a crosscurrent rather than follow the prevailing winds and brings us with her.
Anne Wilkes Tucker
curator emerita, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Ten Nineteen is delighted to present Nancy Rexroth: IOWA, an exhibition featuring 28 rare, vintage, gelatin silver prints from the pioneering 1977 IOWA series. The series is widely recognized as a seminal achievement in photographic history and continues to inspire countless artists, photographers, and scholars today (Sally Mann, Alec Soth, Jim Goldberg, to name a few).
In the late 1960s, Nancy Rexroth (b. 1946) began photographing the rural landscapes, children, white frame houses, and domestic interiors of rural Ohio, where she was attending graduate school. At a moment when photographic technicality and precision were held high, Rexroth opted for a $1.50 toy camera (the “Diana”) that had irregular exposures, bent perspectives, and faulty focus. She then further manipulated her photographs by deliberately blurring or overlaying them, abandoning form in the name of feeling, description for evocation. The result was a haunting, dream-like aesthetic that vibrated with joy, sadness, and longing in the slanting 4-o’clock light. As Rexroth explains, the Diana offered “a pathway from the highly technical to the more internally sensitive.”
In 1977, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Rexroth self-published the series in a book entitled IOWA. For Rexroth, though the images were captured in Ohio, they evoked childhood memories of summers spent in Iowa visiting relatives. With the help of the title, Rexroth explains, she hoped to demonstrate that “a photograph doesn’t have to be about the subject at hand. It can be about intangibles, about emotions, about my own interiority.”
The photographic community was mesmerized. Not long after, Aperture published a selection of IOWA images in a special issue called “The Snapshot” alongside works by Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and Emmet Gowin, and the International Center for Photography, Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution presented IOWA works in major group exhibitions.
Photographers like Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Carrie Mae Weems and many others would soon explore what and how images communicate and evoke, and photography as a complex visual language would become a familiar genre for artists and scholars alike. Rexroth’s IOWA was at the vanguard, and, more than four decades later, the images still feel compellingly new.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Nancy Rexroth (b. 1946) is an American photographer noted for her ground-breaking, evocative images captured with the Diana camera that continue to expand the parameters of photography today. Her work is included in the collections of major institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Center for Creative Photography, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and the Library of Congress.
Light on iowa, a film by ann segal
As part of the exhibition, we're grateful to be able to feature light on IOWA: Conversation with Nancy Rexroth (2020). This short film, directed and produced by Ann Segal with support from FotoFocus, provides an intimate view of Rexroth's artistic practice and the ideas behind the IOWA series.