Rural America is suffering. Since the 1950’s rural areas have had higher poverty rates than urban areas, a statistic that is growing. A lack of jobs and lower educational attainment fuel persistent poverty, creating an environment where many young people see few options out. Those with the means and desire to seek a career and economic stability, seek it elsewhere.
Lara Shipley’s experience as a person from the rural Ozarks, and as an artist who has worked there over the past 5 years, however, affirms a passion and pride in rural life and culture, as well as a desire to invest in the future of these communities. She rebuffs a persistent lack of understanding towards rural populations that marks them as homogenous, backwards, ignorant and deserving of their fates.
In the project The New Rural, Shipley will travel for the month of July with writer Ann Friedman, to a select number of rural communities in a radius surrounding Kansas City.
They will focus on places where young people gather in their free time‚ spending several days at each location photographing rural youth and conducting audio interviews about the realities of rural experience today.
The result will be a series of affordable books that Shipley will design and print in small runs, containing images and writing from their experience. The books will contain links that can be scanned with a cell phone to access the full audio interviews as a free downloadable podcast. All content will also appear on a website that will also serve as an ongoing forum for rural youth across the country to share their experiences.
Shipley and Friedman believe that when a person sees her or himself represented in the media this can contribute to feeling valued as a person and a culture. Therefore, a portion of the books will be donated to select rural libraries and other relevant collections, so that they will be accessible for future generations of rural youth who otherwise have limited access to relatable media.
They will also promote the books in urban and coastal areas, in an effort to foster a better understanding of the complex realities of rural experience today. Proceeds of book sales will go towards funding a series of annual return trips to the same locations, to create an ongoing document of this transformative time in their subject’s lives.
Shipley believes the future success of this country relies on our ability to understand and empathize with Americans from all walks of life. The ultimate goal of this project is to give voice to an often-ignored population as well as to connect urban audiences with the serious issues facing Midwestern rural regions.
Lara Shipley is from rural Missouri and currently lives in Kansas City, MO, where she teaches photography and bookmaking at Kansas City Art Institute. She is a photographer, writer and bookmaker who primarily makes work about rural culture and identity, mythology, storytelling and photography’s relationship to evidence.
A collaborative project, Devil’s Promenade, has recently been exhibited in galleries in Boston, Santa Fe, Chicago, New Orleans and others. Her work was part of the recent biennial at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, GuatePhoto International Photography in Guatemala, and is in collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, IL and the Nelson Atkins Museum for Art in Kansas City.
Lara’s photographs appear in publications such as British Journal of Photography, Atlantic Monthly, Vice, GOOD Magazine, Slate Magazine, NPR and Kansas City Public Television. She is the founder of the photography book publisher SEARCH PARTY PRESS, and recently released a series of collaborative books, Spook Light Chronicles.
Before becoming a professor of photography she was an online photography producer for National Geographic and a freelance photographer in Washington DC. She received a Masters of Fine Arts in photography from Arizona State University and a Bachelors of Photojournalism from the University of Missouri.
Ann Friedman is a freelance journalist who writes about gender, media, technology, and culture. She writes a weekly column at NYmag.com and also contributes regularly to The Los Angeles Times, The Gentlewoman, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, ELLE, The Guardian, and Los Angeles magazine. Ann also co-hosts a podcast, Call Your Girlfriend, sends out a weekly email newsletter full of digital treats and makes hand-drawn pie charts.
Ann currently lives in Los Angeles and grew up in eastern Iowa. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and has since moved back and forth between the coasts. Before becoming a freelance writer, she was the executive editor of GOOD magazine.