I first learned about Barry Phipps’s Iowa photos project on Feature Shoot, and, as a fellow Midwesterner, could hardly contain my excitement – it’s my kind of project, full of story and place and changes.
Where are you and what do you do?
I’m in Iowa City, IA. Moved here four years ago from Chicago, where I lived for 22 years. I’m a working photographer and artist.
How did you get started in photography?
I studied photography at The Kansas City Art Institute in the late eighties. I’m old, so we were taught how to shoot, develop, and print film.
What do you like about your photography?
I’m very hard on myself, so it’s hard sometimes to say I like my own photography. That said, I enjoy a means of communication that isn’t blatantly about me. It’s more impersonal and less directly emotive than, say, making music. I’m a former musician who finds it gut wrenchingly difficult to listen to a song I’ve recorded and released where I’m singing, but have no problem digging through old photographs and finding enjoyment doing so.
You cover weddings and portraits along with your Iowa series. Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?
I enjoy weddings and portrait work. I still shoot film and approach it in the same way as my Iowa Photographs series, and tend to work for artists, photographers, writers and the like. I don’t really look much at other wedding photographers for inspiration. My studio portrait work isn’t really influenced by other work. I’m inspired by Richard Avedon and kind of jealous of Terry Richardson. I like looking through Vanity Fair and those types of magazines as I’m waiting to get my hair cut. I’d love to do fashion stuff, but not going out of my way to make that happen. I do live in Iowa, after all.
I like that your photos, especially your Iowa series, have a sense of place and purpose. What kinds of themes do you explore with your work?
Thanks! Actually, I feel the Iowa Photographs series gave my photography a sense of purpose, focus, and direction. I photographed lots in Chicago, but moving to Iowa four years ago really gave me a sense of direction. I’m really drawn to this place. I initially just started taking day trips in every direction from Iowa City, just to see what was out there. It was exciting to be in a new place. I assumed I would live in Chicago for the rest of my life. Chicago can be a challenging place to leave. You can drive for two hours and still be in the city sometimes. Here, it’s liberating to be able to just get in my car and drive in any direction and be somewhere new in just a few minutes. Iowa is populated with a million small towns, most never more than six or seven miles from the last one. Iowa was mostly populated within a few years, mostly by European immigrants. So, these towns formed, thrived, peaked and later declined as the original purpose of servicing farming families dried up. There’s a consistency town to town, but also a uniqueness. I’m always surprised by what I find.
Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?
The Iowa Photographs series will continue, but I have wrapped up my initial phase of the project. I’ve photographed every county in Iowa and have accumulated what I consider a fair representation of the state of the state. I’m currently putting a book together of the best stuff from this phase. It will be published by The University of Iowa Press around 2019.