Driftless: Stories from Iowa, is a MediaStorm project that features stories from rural Iowa from the point of view of photojournalist Danny Wilcox Frazier. Frazier, a white guy from Iowa City, Iowa, frames Iowa from a majority white, romanticized point of view.
I was raised in Southeast Iowa near Iowa City and have been to a lot of the towns that are featured in Frazier’s project. The project is split into distinct sections: Family Farm, Town Bar, Jumping Rock, Migrant Labor, Country Butcher, and Harry & Helen.
Kalona and Conesville are a couple of the towns that are featured in the project. I grew up in that part of Iowa – East of Kalona and West of Conesville. The film includes many of the things that most people associate with Iowa: farming, cows, hogs, cornfields, gravel roads, guns, tractors, and white people. Associating Iowa with white people is not a difficult thing to do as the latest U.S. Census numbers show that Iowa is 94% white. However, Iowa is not 100% white and I think that Frazier is barely aware of this fact.
Frazier’s interviews in the piece construct rural Iowans as being all white and that people of color, predominantly Latinos, are “newcomers” or semi-permanent residents. People from Mexico immigrated to Iowa as early as the 1800’s. Frazier’s subjects who are older than 50 are all white and are depicted as “true Iowans.”
Whiteness is romanticized. The video clip titled “Migrant Labor” and the transcript of the video provides ample fodder for critique: