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EPF 2012 Finalist
Danny Wilcox Frazier
Lost Nation: America’s Rural Ghetto
For ten years now, I have photographed throughout the Midwest, the agricultural and industrial heart of America. I began in Iowa, my home, where youth flight has brought many small towns to the brink of extinction. Lost and alienated, these communities seem entombed in obscurity. Following Iowa, my work led me to two other communities in the Midwest where systemic poverty and suffering are the norm: the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and Detroit. Pine Ridge has a long history of injustice and neglect, and sits in the poorest region of the United States. Detroit is the only city in America that has seen its population rise above one million residents and then fall back below. As in rural America, depopulation weighs heavily on the economy of Detroit, the poorest large city in the nation.
Rural America has lost over twelve million people since 2000, with the latest figure putting its share of the nation’s population at just 16 percent, the lowest in history in 1910, that figure was 72 percent. My photographs document those fighting to continue living in these forgotten communities, the individuals working to maintain traditions that symbolize rural life. Swaths of the Great Plains, Midwest, and Appalachia, as well as numerous Southern states are in the greatest danger. Many towns in these regions are likely already lost, and my work will simply document these communities before they fade away.
As I continue to work on this project, my travels will take me back to Jefferson County, Mississippi, North Texas, and Appalachia. Jefferson County has the highest percentage of African Americans in the United States (85%). This county has a rich history that reflects America’s troubled past; it is also the poorest county in the poorest state in the nation. I have photographed briefly in all three locations and funding from the EPF will allow me to finish these essays as I expand the project nationally.
Danny Wilcox Frazier has spent the last decade covering issues of marginalized communities across the United States. He is a contributing photographer at Mother Jones magazine. Frazier’s work has appeared in: TIME, GEO, The Sunday Times Magazine, Der Spiegel, and Frontline (PBS). Frazier was awarded the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography leading to his book, “Driftless” (2007). After completing the book, Frazier directed a documentary that confronts issues highlighted by his photographs. The film was nominated for an Emmy in 2010 and won a Webby that same year. In 2009, Frazier received a grant from The Aftermath Project for work on the Pine Ridge Reservation. His photographs appear in numerous collections including: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian, National Museum of American History. Frazier is working on his next book, “Lost Nation”, a look at economic and geographic isolation across America.