The Oxford Project: Storytelling and Still Photo Survey at its best

Awesome (Research) Photography-Project combines a lot of methods – from storytelling, still photo survey to ethnography aso. …


THE OXFORD PROJECT: Photographs by Peter Feldstein, Text by Stephen G. Bloom, Preface by Gerald Stern, Published by Welcome Books, 264 pages, 10″ x 12 1/2″ more than 300 b/w photographs, flip lenticular cover, Hardcover, $50.00 ($57.50 CAN), ISBN 978-1-59962-048-0

In the storytelling tradition of Studs Terkel and the photographic spirit of Mike Disfarmer, The Oxford Project tells the extraordinary true tale of a seemingly ordinary Midwestern town through the pictures and words of its residents. Equal parts art, American history, cultural anthropology, and human narrative—The Oxford Project is at once personal and universal, surprising and predictable, simple and profound.

The Project began almost twenty-five years ago, when Peter Feldstein undertook the remarkable task of photographing nearly every resident of his town, Oxford, Iowa (pop. 676). The collection of photographs that resulted is a fascinating glimpse into the ethos and character of small-town life. In those stark, full-body images Feldstein managed to capture not only the visage of rural America, but a sense of its underlying spirit.
Two decades later Feldstein did it again, re-photographing as many of the original residents as he could locate. But this time, his neighbors didn’t just pose, they talked. With astonishing honesty, the people of Oxford shared their memories, fantasies, failures, secrets, and fears with Feldstein and writer Stephen G. Bloom, who compiled their words into the poignant, short, first-person narratives that accompany their portraits. Each one is a reminder that the most compelling and unusual stories are always the truest.
Hundreds of Oxford residents come to life in these pages. Time leaps back and forth, instantly elapsing twenty years. Meet, among others, the donut baker who went from having to be weighed on a livestock scale to losing over 150 pounds with the encouragement of the entire town; the Pentecostal minister who gave up buck-skinning to found his own church and now awaits the rapture in 2028; the World War II veteran who survived the Battle of the Bulge, but still suffers terribly from post-traumatic stress disorder; his son, a recipient of the Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, who shares his father’s affliction.

Considered side-by-side, these portraits reveal the inevitable transformations of aging: wider waistlines, wrinkled skin, eyeglasses, and laugh lines. Babies and children have become parents themselves. The courses of lives have been irrevocably altered by deaths, births, marriages, infidelities, and divorces. Some have lost God, others have found Him. Equally fascinating are those for whom time has stood still; whose original and present day portraits appear eerily identical.
In a place like Oxford—where strangers are recognized by the sound of an unfamiliar engine idle—not only does everyone know everyone else, but also everyone else’s brothers, sisters, parents, lovers, dreams, defeats, and favorite pot luck recipes. This intricate web of human connections among neighbors, friends, and family, is the mainstay of small-town American life—unforgettably captured here in Feldstein’s candid black-and-white photography and Bloom’s rhythmic storytelling.