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Midwest Dirt

by Nathan Pearce

We were immediately taken in by photographer Nathan Pearce’s way of working; he has created several smaller projects which all connect and form a larger narrative together, which has become his project Midwest Dirt.

Pearce describes the Midwest as having a “stillness”, and it’s something he manages to capture beautifully. The majority of photographs are in black and white, and it’s a quiet and gentle look at life in the Midwest, visually discussing themes on identity, change and what “home” means.

Before you start looking, put this on.

First things first, please introduce yourself.

My name is Nathan Pearce and I am a photographer from Southern Illinois. I make photobooks and zines, and during the day I work at an auto-body repair shop.

What’s your story?

I started taking pictures when I was very young, ten or so, and I had a lot of fun doing it. I had a little film point and shoot that I loved. I didn’t begin seriously until about five or six years ago though; in my early twenties I worked at a cafe near the Yale Art School. I had a friend who worked in the undergraduate photo lab and he would sneak me in and let me use the facilities. Thanks Yale!

You also have a huge list of zines that you have created, which is fantastic to see. What is it about a zine or photobook that draws you in?

I love everything about photobooks and zines. What has been motivating the most me lately has been the actual physical experience of reading a book. So many photographs are confined to the internet (which can be a great place to find photographs) and it is nice to let some live in the physical world.

What is Midwest Dirt about?

I have made several projects in the last few years and most of them fit into my Midwest Dirt project. I started making all of this work when returning to the Midwest after living away for several years. I see the Midwest very differently now and that’s what I’m trying to photograph. There is a stillness here. It may be why I left when I was young, but it’s definitely why I stay now.

Why did you leave?

When I grew up, everyone wanted to leave as soon as we could. So I did.

Much of the project is in black and white. Was this a natural choice again or something that just happened?

I have always been more drawn to making black and white photography. I’m not sure why. I think there is a stillness in the Midwest and in my work that is especially highlighted by the black and white photographs.

Why have you decided to create smaller “mini” projects around the subject of the Midwest, instead of one big project as many artists tend to do?

When I completed the first Midwest Dirt photobook I felt like I wasn’t finished with the project. I have continued to make small chapters in the larger narrative. I often use different cameras and techniques to make up these smaller chapters and projects.

What’s your intention for the project?

I intend to keep publishing photobooks and zines on the subject, forever.

What inspires you?

A little bit of everything really. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I am inspired by music when making work.  Lately I’ve been listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen while driving around and looking for pictures. I told a friend lately that I was trying to cover a record, but using photographs instead of music. There are a lot of records I would like to try to cover.

So that song resonates with you when you’re working on this particular project? That’s quite interesting. I love the idea of covering a record with photographs instead of music. In this regard, what’s your favourite photograph from your work so far? Does this particular image inspire a song? If not, choose the song you think would go with it now.

I’m not sure I could pick a favourite picture from the project, but Harvest Moon by Neil Young might work pretty well for the whole project.

What are you up to next?

I’m working on about seven new zines. I’m also working on a new Midwest Dirt photobook with Flash Powder Projects.


Do you hand make them all? Where would be the best place to start for someone who wanted to start making their own zines?

Some are handmade and some I make through a local print shop. If you want to get started with making, my best advice is to find a way and do it. A lot of people talk about making zines and some actually do. Find access to a printer or visit your local print shop with a body of work that you believe in and make something.


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