Midwestern Gothic staffer Ben Ratner spoke with photographer Tara Reeves about her creative process, showing people things they’ve never seen, and more.
Tara Reeves grew up in southern California before moving to Chicago for college. She studied photography at the Illinois Institute of Art. Tara enjoys documentary photography as well as traveling, reading, and finding the best donut Chicago has to offer.
Tara Reeves: I moved to Chicago 7 years ago for college from southern California. My grandparents grew up in the Midwest and oddly enough I ended up here.
BR: What launched you into the world of photography?
TR: I became interested in photography in high school. I found the action of capturing a moment in time fascinating. I also heard a quote from Diane Arbus which read, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” She inspired me to want to show people things they’ve never seen or would never see.
BR: What do you think photography as a medium can add to the literary profile of the Midwest?
TR: I think photography and literature go quite well together. Writing allows you to create a place in your mind, while photography can capture what an actual place is like.
BR: Tell me a little bit about your experience in Chicago at the Illinois Institute of Art. In what ways did this experience change the way you see the region?
TR: I had never been to the Midwest before moving to Chicago. I became great friends with people from small towns in Wisconsin and Illinois. I visited their homes a few times so I got to see a way of life that I never experienced. It was the complete opposite of what I was used to; quiet, isolated, open.
BR: We have a few of your photos here that are new to the MG site. Can you take us through the inspiration behind them? How did you come across each of these shots and what is it that they convey to you?
Danforth: I took this photo with a friend who introduced me to several small towns around where she grew up. She’s from a small town in Illinois and knew I was working on this project at the time. What I always found interesting is how buildings like this stayed desolate and items, like this grill, were just left and nobody bothered to do anything with it. I always wonder what was here. Why is it empty now? And even though it’s bare, the green and warm lighting somehow make you feel positive about it.
LeRoy_4: This photo was taken on a solo trip of mine. I was at the point where I was looking up towns with low populations that I could photograph for my final project in college. I was actually terrified to take this photo because a few minutes before the family who lived in the house had left and I didn’t know when they’d be back. I quickly realized that there’s a sense of trust amongst the community in small Midwestern towns. This family left all kinds of things on their yard, whereas I’m so used to locking it all up in a garage or having three locks on the door of my apartment. The American flag also sticks out to me. I feel like this image captures the Midwest and is something that people who grew up here can relate to.
LeRoy_3: This photo was taken on the same as the other image in LeRoy. This photo makes me laugh because they also leave everything in their yard for people to take. The funniest part is the boat because this town is in the middle of Illinois, so not exactly close to a lake. This photo also makes me happy. I feel like a lot of people picture the Midwest only in the winter, so having taken this photo in the Spring I was able to capture the blooming trees, green grass, and big blue sky. This photo reminds me of when winter turns to Spring and how good the sun feels again.
BR: One subject is conspicuously absent throughout your work: human beings. Why do you omit people from your photography? How does capturing a sense of place change when its people are nowhere to be seen?
TR: This wasn’t intentional at first. I went out to shoot for this project in school and came back with zero photos of people. There aren’t people in my photos because I didn’t run into anyone while photographing. I was documenting towns of around a thousand people, so I wanted to portray the quiet and absent feeling you’d experience if you were there. Not seeing people was very weird for me since I’ve only lived in large suburbs or cities, which is what started this series in the first place.
BR: Is there a Midwestern author that speaks to your soul?
TR: Gillian Flynn is one of my favorite current authors.
BR: What’s next for you?
TR: Currently I’m photographing as a hobby. I use film and digital cameras, which is a lot of fun. I’m still living in Chicago, but trying to figure out where to go next.