The Oxford Project

This book was amazing. Amazing. I picked it up after dinner on Monday night and I didn’t put it down until I was done.

Basically the Oxford Project is this: Photographer Peter Feldstein moves to the small town of Oxford, IA (he’s an art professor at the University of Iowa) and in 1984 decides to photograph all of the town’s 676 residents. After an exhibit in town, he puts the photographs away and doesn’t think about them for 20 years – at which point he decides to do it again.

The book contains portraits of 150 or so of those residents – along with biographical stories from interviews Stephen Bloom did with the residents. The photos are wonderful and really make you want to read about the people pictured and their lives.

Several things stuck out at me about the book:

Many things about people are immutable – often residents would stand the same way for their portraits 20 years apart without noticing it. So much of who we are as people is shaped by how others see us, but clearly at our core we are all our own person.

Family resemblance is interesting to consider. Both in terms of appearance and in terms of how we live our lives. I think we all think at least a little about the ways in which we are like our families (even if we don’t want to be) and also the ways in which we are profoundly different. When families work, they are a wonderful thing. So many of the people in this book spoke about the joy and strength they get from having so much of their family living nearby.

Bad things shape you. Especially the loss of a child. It was remarkable to me how many people spoke in their interviews about a child who had died – even if that death had occured a long time ago. Having a child die before you never becomes normal or unremarkable.

A small, close-knit community is wonderful. Unless you don’t feel a part of it – and then the closeness of that community makes it even harder to not belong.

This was another Early Reviewer book. I was so excited when I found out that I was getting it and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest.

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The Oxford Project

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