As a freelance photographer, 46-year-old Danny Wilcox Frazier has taken assignments all over the world, from Kenya to Kosovo and from Afghanistan to India. Yet it’s the photos he’s shot in his own backyard, among the rural communities of Iowa and the American Midwest, that have most often captured the attention and imagination of the public.
“This is where I’m supposed to be,” Frazier said after returning to Iowa after years of traveling the world on assignment. “These are the stories I’m supposed to cover.”
And now, for the first time, his community will be able to see the work they inspired on display. Frazier’s mini-documentary, “Driftless,” based on a photo book of the same name, will have its own special screening at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, IA.
“My work is mostly shown on the coasts and out of the country,” Frazier said recently. “It needs to be shown in communities where I shot them.”
Frazier is renowned in the photography world for his ability to capture honest emotion in the forgotten rural corners of the country, where natural spaces are fast disappearing. Around 60% of all U.S. forest land is now privately owned, but the population of rural communities has declined by about 12 million people since 2000. Still, the dual hardships and pleasures of rural life remain at the heart of Frazier’s photographs.
“My photographs document those fighting to continue living in these forgotten communities, the individuals working to maintain traditions that symbolize rural life,” Frazier has written. “Many towns in these regions are likely already lost, and my work will simply document these communities before they fade away.”
Frazier has made an impressive career for himself as a freelance photographer, with his work appearing in such publications as National Geographic, The Atlantic, TIME, Harper’s, The New Yorker, GQ, and LIFE. An estimated 14.4 million photographers are working in the United States, earning an average of $18 an hour. In addition to his own career, Frazier continues to teach occasional courses at the University of Iowa, where he earned his master’s degree in 2004.
Yet for all of his accolades, Frazier remains a humble and committed freelancer at heart.
“The idea of romanticizing rural life,” he said, “the way you sometimes see it in films or painted on canvas — I’m not interested. I’m interested in a raw honesty. Yes, I want people who’ve had an urban experience to understand what life is like in these rural communities. But I really want the people in these rural communities to connect to my work. That’s who I most care about, and they aren’t gonna connect to some romanticized, fictional depiction of rural life.”