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Nishnabotna landscapes

This series of photographs came from a gradual accumulation of images collected over the last ten years during many short excursions by car in southwest Iowa, specifically in the valleys of the Nishnabotna River and its tributaries.

The area is characterized as “rolling prairie” which — in another part of the world — might be called a steppe. It is abutted on the west by the loess hills, which piled up over millennia by windswept silts, and are considered to be an unusual geographic formation. This terrain undulates like a rumpled blanket on an unmade bed and, in its primordial state last glimpsed over a century ago, was said to have resembled a green ocean as the endless expanses of wild grasses tossed their seed-heavy heads in the breeze.

Under till of the persistent monocultures of corn, soybeans, and industrial hog confinements, no vista here is untouched by the locals’ obedience to the logic of the Cartesian grid that circumscribes each county, township, parcel, sub-parcel, and so on, ever downward, a fractal series dividing the soil in the minds of the people who use it.

The local weather’s music is that of rustling stems of high weeds in the wind, the distant rumble of an approaching thunderstorm, a clap of thunder and rattle of hailstones; the whistle of a freight train passing thru a small town; the calls of the redwing blackbird, the barn owl and the chicken hawk; the pop of jointed snakegrass as it’s pulled apart; the snorting of pigs and the lowing of milk cows (less often now than before); and — I swear it’s the truth – the sound of the corn growing.

Once, the muddy banks of a local creek, after the wash of a heavy rain, divulged the skull and horns of what was said to be muskox, a species today found only in the Arctic. If it’s truly a muskox (it is identified as such at a small regional museum), that would suggest that its carcass was likely abandoned here by the last wave of retreating glaciers (the Tioga maxima are thought to have receded some 10, 000 years ago). Seeing this skull in a glass cabinet is one of the few experiences I've had in this region that explicitly connects with prehistory. After all, few human structures in Iowa are much over 100 years old.

The native population left a few burial mounds, but has otherwise long since all but vanished. But I imagine I sometimes see traces of it left behind in a very few local faces, possibly thru an interracial coupling or adoption in a past generation, perhaps long forgotten.

The images in the series are presented in black and white, with heavily manipulated tonalities. They appear for the first time in the monograph Nishnabotna Landscapes, published as Discréto 26 by Le Nouvel Obscurantiste.