Review: The Life That Remains – Photographing America’s Rural Spaces
June 15 – 21, 2019
Instructor: Danny Wilcox Frazier
The VII Academy invited eight photographers with strong connections and commitment to rural issues, both in and outside of the United States, to join Danny Wilcox Frazier for a documentary workshop in small-town America. The weeklong program was tuition-free and funded by the VII Academy to support photographers from low-income communities as well as those working on issues about underrepresented populations. The workshop was limited to eight photographers.
Mexico, Missouri (pop. 11,500), like many cities in the Midwest, is a town built on a small industry that no longer exists there. Two brick manufacturers employed several thousand workers, but now, long after both businesses closed, the community is economically depressed. Over 22% of the population lives below the poverty line, along with nearly 29% of children and 70% of mixed-race residents. The workshop did not shy away from the struggles many residents in Mexico face, but also emphasized the perseverance and strength that the town’s residents have long shown. Small-town America is full of life, a perspective often lost in oversimplified views from the outside.
This was an intense, immersive shooting workshop in which students produced an in-depth photo essay over the course of the week. The workshop helps each student to bring a unique personal voice to their project, and to take home a new way of seeing not only in their own work but also in the world of documentary photography. Danny led students through the necessary and rigorous steps of research, pre-planning, building relationships, ethical issues, and visual approaches. The experience instilled strong technical skills to transform photographs from single images into photographic series. The workshop also taught the fundamentals of visual literacy and how to use photography as a tool for social justice.
View some of the work that students produced during this workshop:
The landscape of Missouri farming is changing, and 26-year-old Clarissa Cauthorn is a part of that. Although many young people leave rural areas, Cauthorn decided to return to Audrain County and add to the long family legacy of farming with her husband Andrew. But legacy isn’t just in the family, it’s in her efforts to challenge norms for women in agriculture and her hard work to support farmers as they fight against the rains and a rising Missouri River. Most importantly, Clarissa’s legacy is in the community she is building for her eight-month-old son and for young farmers as they get involved in agriculture. “To have that community you have to be that community,” she said.
Luke E. Montavon
Brennan “B” Wilson, 16, was diagnosed with Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome (CFC) when he was born. The rare genetic disorder affects about 300 people worldwide and presents a range of health problems including heart and growth defects, skin and facial abnormalities, and weak muscle tone. “Being ‘B:’ Living with Disabilities in Rural America” is a story that focuses less on Brennan’s disability and the challenges it presents to his family, and more on his abilities and his unique role in his community. His story is an example of how families endure and overcome hardship because of the values and community of small town rural America.
“Not Bad for a Country Girl” is a project about King’s Daughters, a Christian non-profit nursing home, the oldest, single-owner nursing home in Missouri—and it’s only for women. The halls of King’s Daughters, which was founded in 1905 in the town of Mexico, are filled with residents’ golden glamour shots from what seems like different lives. Although these women are in their winter stages, there’s still life within them, and they share a sense of sisterhood and community.
“México to Mexico” is a project by VII Photo mentee Hector Guerrero showcasing life for the Hispanic immigrant community in this part of the country. It is a big community, and very quiet—most people usually go from work to their home and rarely participate in public activities.
Like many young people from small town America who long to eventually move on to a big city, Jenna Frazier once dreamed of leaving Mexico, MO. But during her time away at college, she missed the place that knew her best and chose to go against the common trend of moving to an urban area. Instead, she returned to her roots in Mexico, MO, where she started her own daycare and family.