Last Summer, I found myself at the Baxter St. Camera Club in New York City to see the Hartford MFA 2016 graduate’s photobooks. While the gallery had some framed works, the gallery’s backyard was the main arena, holding all of the books and beer. While I continually circulated around the photobook display, there was one I kept returning to. It was Midwest Sentimental.
It was one of those humid nights in New York City, when every overflowing garbage bag becomes a source of pure contempt. But it was cold in Midwest Sentimental. Snowfall, Midwest winter sunsets, kitsch down comforters, the “nice” dinner plates, family photos gone awry, sweaters made by the archetypal Grandmother… Grann didn’t leave anything out. Only two pages in, Grann states he spent three years living in his Mother’s basement [in Minnesota] whilst making these pictures.
“Love, sadness, and humor have come to define those years…”
Now, let’s get this out of the way. Midwest Sentimental is a fantastic book. A clear, clarified rendition of one’s ever changing familial relations and life in a Midwest suburb. I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy Grann’s book as much when I learned the premise. Why? Because in this humble editors opinion, the “Family” is the most difficult thing to photograph, and photograph well. As any Photographer, or Artist, can tell you, ease of access is a fickle benefit. You can become exhausted, even suffocated by the closeness, the constant realization that anything could be a picture. Anything could work. Furthermore, did his family ever become annoyed? Frustrated? Or did Grann’s family ask the same questions he sought to answer when he began the project;
“What makes a family click?”
“What holds a family together?”
“And, what allows for a family to move on from a troubled past?”
I’ve yet to see a successful project thread together so many narratives in the same way Grann has. Step-mother, Step-Father, Mother, Father, Family…If your a clinical psychologist, you’ll have a field day. If your a Photographer, you’ll be wondering how he made “it” all work.
After following Grann’s work and career, I was incredibly excited to see it out on the market (thank you Peperoni books) and true to form, it still makes me laugh, upset, and damn cold. You can buy Midwest Sentimental here.
I spent three years of my mid-twenties living in my mother’s basement in the American Midwest. Love, sadness, and humor have come to define those years, which led me to ask:
What makes a family click?
What holds a family together?
And, what allows for a family to move on from a troubled past?
In three years, I found few definitive answers. Instead, what came of it was the experience of a collective exhale of momentary release and reflection.
My Father and his binoculars, 2015
My Father and Grandpa’s chair, 2016
Grandma’s guestroom nightstand, 2016
My Mother and Dale, 2016
Grandma and her chair, 2015
Christmas Eve, 2016
My Mother with her fur coat, 2016
Myself and bedroom, 2015
My Father and Karen at Sunset, 2016
Nathaniel Grann is a photographer and photo editor from Minnesota currently living in Los Angeles, CA. He received his M.F.A. in Photography from the University of Hartford in 2016. He currently works as an editorial picture editor at Shutterstock and has previously worked at The Washington Post. In 2016, he co-founded the teaching collective Image Threads Collective. He has recently released his first monograph ‘Midwest Sentimental’ with Peperoni Books.
To view more of Nathaniel Grann’s work please visit his website.