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I have selected a series over fifty towns in rural Iowa with famous names, such as international locations (Paris, Jamaica and Rome) or familiar namesakes (Orient and Jefferson) to document. So far I have traveled to over forty, creating photographs that juxtapose the image each namesake evokes against what I discover in these rural spaces. I use the namesakes to explore the differences between easy assumptions and the reality of a small town Iowa: commonality and dissonance. The namesakes serve the project two ways. First, they provide means of "random" selection. I know little to nothing about each locale prior to arriving to photograph. I select it for inclusion solely because of its famous moniker. Second, I use my knowledge of the namesake to influence how I depict each site. I intend to use these images to reveal the manipulative power of the lens while leaving the viewer with a playful look into how we perceive a place.
The connections I am forging are not efforts to search for remnants of a bygone era, but rather an attempt to create new links by careful observation. Before traveling to each town, I conduct brief research about the namesake location. I then arrive with a list of descriptors that my research provides. For example, as I photographed Turin, Iowa, I kept the list of concepts rolling in the back of my mind like a mantra. My list contained items such as; Italian mountains, capital of the Alps, the holy shroud, Olympics, cathedrals, ancient architecture, wealthy, classic and divine. I strive to meld the two together; to see the influence of the namesake in the Iowa locale and embody the mood of the Italian town.
As I began to explore rural Iowa I found that my assumptions ran far deeper than I had imagined. I have been surprised and delighted to discover that there is so much more to these places than the stereotypes I grew up believing or a residential designer’s mark. After years of photographing suburbia and considering spaces that are conceived and engineered by a unified concept, the diversity present in rural life is striking. The residents make their own marks; every place I've traveled to looks and feels different. My camera is chronicling the accumulation of community, unique through shared experience.
Jen Moon is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She received her BFA in Art with an Emphasis in Photography from the University of Iowa and her MFA in Imaging Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She has exhibited her work in several national and international exhibitions.
In her current project, “Namesake Iowa,” she has selected over fifty towns in Iowa named after famous locations (Paris, Jamaica and Gaza) or familiar concepts (the Orient and Jefferson). So far, she has traveled to over forty towns to create a series of images that document rural Iowa.
Her work can be viewed at jenmoonphoto.com.
The Waukesha State Bank Art Gallery is located in the Margaret Brate Bryant Civic Theatre building, 264 W. Main Street, downtown Waukesha. The Waukesha Civic Theatre Box Office and Art Gallery are open from Noon - 5:00 pm Tuesday - Friday, and will be open two hours prior to weekend performances of Lend Me A Tenor.