The iPhone as a tool

I’ve spent the past three Januarys in my hometown of Danville, Illinois for a few reasons. The first is because my artist’s compass draws me there to tell stories and make art. The second is to see my family. The third, though not the least important, is to stay humble.

I love to talk about Danville and its role as a straw man for America’s mainstream media outlets; it’s a rustbelt city that’s fallen victim to the tech revolution, among other sociological buzzwords. But that’s not what this post is about.


This post is about how using my iPhone has allowed me to simultaneously experience ‘home’ and document what Danville looks like in the late 2010s (+2020). 

Danville  is where I go to feel real and free myself of LALALand-isms (i.e. self-doubt induced by an over-saturated art market, self-importance, living in a liberal bubble, etc.).

In Jan. 2018 and 2019, I spent the month documenting the lives of my former fifth-grade classmates for the project 5th Grade Dreams. I photographed my classmates on 35 mm and 120 film. This year I took a crack at making a documentary film (coming soon!!! maybe!!! I kinda wanna figure out how to make it legit). 

Using my iPhone’s camera to document all those non-work/in-between moments has yielded a really lovely series of digital images that express the grittiness, surreality, charm, and ambiguity of my hometown. iPhone photography is also very cheap compared to film photography and motion pictures (quite fitting).

 I hope to make these images for all the Januarys to come. 


What’s in a high school archive?

I was in Danville last week when my dad encouraged me to go into the basement of our family home and look through my photographic archive from high school. I’ve done this before, but this time I was looking for early indications that I was going to pursue a career in documentary arts.

During high school, I compulsively wrote in my journal - sometimes three times a day - though I can’t quite bring myself to read through them yet. I know I often wrote something along the lines of “I’m writing down all these details from the party last night because I never ever want to forget them!” 

The disposable cameras let me relax from memorizing details about scenes… I just had to snap and then I could return to being present in the moment.  And it was effective, because I remember everything that was happening in these images. 

This is a curated selection of thousands of images I took from 2006-2010. I picked these based on how vivid the memories were. Like these:

My best friend Bridgett and gathered bunch of gifts from our respective ex-boyfriends and buried in the park in her neighborhood. Someone called the police. It was thrilling and funny and something I would have forgotten about otherwise.

There were other images from a the “summer of alliteration” in 2007, when my friends labeled each day of the week as a day we’d convene. There was Movie Monday, Trailblazing Tuesday, Water Wednesday, Ultimate Frisbee Friday… But these memories are precious and somehow live better in my head than in the photos. 

Hometown show

‘5th Grade Dreams’ made its Danville debut last month, but I still haven’t fully processed the the experience. And I probably never will. 

There were guests from 8 different states and London, England. People from all chapters of my life made an effort to come see the photos and meet my classmates. 

The show will be up at the Danville Art League until Dec. 14. Danville District 118 students continue to visit the show as part of their class curriculum. 

Kelsey greets me after entering the exhibition with her husband, Aaron, Both were represented in the show.

Nesa and I photographed among her portraits during the reception on Oct. 12.

Brandi, Brandi’s girlfriend Cat, and I at the show.

During the first week of December I’ll be give a tour to the current fifth-grade MATS class. That’s what will bring this project full-circle. And while I plan to continue to work on this project for the years to come, I look forward to taking some time away from it and pursuing new artistic interests in 2020.

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