A Midwestern Crossing

Photographer David Ottenstein Stops Time in Iowa

The last thing I expected to see when I went to a gallery meetup at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists on Saturday was HOME.

The Radius 2008 Exhibition featured the best of their emerging artists from the last 10 years, and one of those was photographer David Ottenstein, originally of Pittsburgh, PA. Ottenstein has recently abandoned photographing industrial interiors in the Northeast for his new muse– Iowa. He makes his home photography base in Grinnell when he is working there a few times a year, working with a 4×5 inch view camera and actual film to photograph the decaying remnants of our once dominant agricultural family lifestyles. He calls the rural heartland “traditionally American”– an impressive goal for probably Jewish East Coaster living in New Haven, whose Iowa works are being acquired by the Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale.

But, for those of us who call the heartland something more intimate, you’ll find Ottenstein’s work does nothing to exploit or romanticize a true essence of Iowa. Captured primarily in black and white using natural light, the images are primally realistic, highlighting both flaws in the corroding architecture and the grace in the curving landscape.

In close-ups, such as in Farmhouse Near Kinross you feel a hardened sense of wonder at what you are missing that is just outside the frame– the neglectful owners, the surrounding landscape, the good reason to let such beauty fall to ruin. But for those of us familiar with these scenes (we’ve seen them repeat and repeat themselves as we drive I-380 north of Cedar Rapids or Highway 30 West of Ames), it is like spotting an old friend you haven’t seen awhile from across the room– same bone structure, same sparkle, just a familiar face devastated in every sort of way you couldn’t have expected.

David Ottenstein is showing in Des Moines for the next two months. Go see it. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Artist: David Ottenstein
Olson-Larsen Gallery, West Des Moines
Opening Reception Feb. 6, 2009, 5 -7 p.m.
Show Runs through March 21, 209
203 Fifth Street, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265