In March 2011, Webster City’s main employer shut down and moved to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Electrolux had made washing machines in the small Iowa town of 8,000 under various brand names since 1937, and now they were gone. Nearly all of a workforce that once topped 2,000 was laid off. It’s not the first community to end up in a tough spot, and it won’t be the last. In fact, it isn’t special in any particular way at all. The lack of novelty in the primary story line has allowed me to instead direct my gaze elsewhere.
And so, over the past 2½ years, through a dozen trips back to Webster City, I’ve attempted to infiltrate the psyche of the town. I want to understand from the inside the existential identity crisis happening among civic leaders and private citizens alike as yet another blue collar community stares down obsolescence. Change is incremental, and those I see are subtle to the point of being illusory. As a result, I’ve been forced (or perhaps allowed) to respond like a photographic mood ring. My pictures are a reflection of the town’s aura as much as any specific trials and tribulations.
I’ve embedded myself in daily life in Webster City, striving to capture everything from a vague anxiety about the future to telling everyday details. And yet, fundamentally, my pictures are perhaps better understood as an attempt to answer the question of what it means to be middle class in America today. The phrase represents different things to different people. Is it having one’s basic physical needs assured? Having disposable income and material goods? Is it simply freedom and opportunity? There is no one answer, and I don’t propose one. Ultimately, to be middle class is to feel middle class. Once, that implied an expectation of permanence and security, but no longer. Any comfort with the present suggests no certainty about the future. By highlighting daily routines and activities with an implied or inherent transience, my photographs hint at this comfort/uncertainty paradox which I believe fundamentally undermines the quality of life we all seek.