Nancy Rexroth's Book IOWA, Taken With Toy Camera is Re-issued.

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(Nancy Rexroth, "My Mother. Pennsville, Ohio." (1970)


In the early 70s, Nancy Rexroth documented rural Ohio with a camera and released a monograph book in 1977 called Iowa to show those photos. First, yes, the book is called Iowa and all the pictures inside it were taken in Ohio. She came up with the title because the images reminded her of her childhood in Iowa. 

But surprisingly that's not the most interesting thing about the book. Every picture inside it was taken with a Diana Toy Camera just like this one. 

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So, what's the significance of that? Well, it's a $50 (today's price) plastic camera that uses either 120 rolls or 35mm film. It can suffer from things like light leaks, failure to even advance the film and poor optics from its plastic lens. However, that's what makes it unique. You're not buying this camera to take high art fashion photography. You're buying it to see life through its imperfectness. And in Nancy's case, all its ethereal beauty. Look at these images from her book, IOWA.

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(Pages from IOWA by Nancy Rexroth (photo of the book from Hyperallergic.com)

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(Nancy Rexroth, "Boys Flying. Amesville, Ohio" (1976))

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(Nancy Rexroth, "Clara in the Closet. Carpenter, Ohio." (1973))

They're beautiful AND disturbing at the same time. They look like photos in every horror movie about a disturbance in a small town in the 20s. Tell me that's not a ghost leaving the bedroom! What about this guy?

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(Nancy Rexroth, "Emmet Dances the Jig. Kreiger Falls, Ohio." (1974) )

Oh, sure it's just Emmet before he ate an entire village. The cool thing about this camera is that you never know what you're going to get from it. These images were taken in the 70s, but if you told me they were taken at the turn of the century I would believe you. They have a tin-type washed out look that's hard to replicate unless you have the right tools. 

Nancy used the camera to enter the dream world and capture life as we only see it when we're sleeping. Sure today there are filters and Photoshop actions you can use to create whatever kind of look you want. But there's something magical about seeing the world in a certain way, not altering an image AFTER it was taken, but seeing it in a totally different light altogether. You can't put filters or actions on these pictures to try and make them normal because they were never taken from a place of normalcy. 

IOWA by Nancy Rexroth is out from the University of Texas Press.


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