I began this series of photographs after traveling through rural Indiana in the winter of 2013. I was struck by the expansive landscapes that seemed a bit forlorn but still beautiful. When my husband and I drove to Indiana again in November 2014, I knew I wanted to document some of these views and spend more time in the region.
For this work, I wanted to explore this cold, bleak landscape. I took in the country roads between Lafayette and Ellwood, Indiana. I also spent time exploring the little highways along Illinois Route 3 between St. Louis and Alton. These are places I have driven past many times but had never really investigated further. Until now, I have focused on urban photography and have ignored the rural spaces in between.
Family farms, to me, are a symbol of the American Dream. Looking back into my own history, I remember that my great-grandparents came to the United States to own farmland, settling in Wisconsin. But the pastoral ideal of the family farm seems to be in danger, perhaps becoming a dream of the past. As they try to balance competition with industrial large-scale farming, market pressures, the influence of subsidies, and then the policies and practices of seed companies (such as our very own Monsanto headquartered in St. Louis) – the future of the family farm is put in an ever more precarious and difficult position.
These landscapes are quiet. They are bleak, but offer a sense of promise. They show evidence of hard work. In the culture at large, the agrarian life seems to be receiving new interest. Those who work the land are staying on some sort of path, despite the growing challenges to farming at nature’s pace.
This continuing body of work draws on the history of St. Louis and my own experience living in the city. I am exploring ideas of both collective and personal memory as I photograph places that iconic and places that have more personal significance. My prints depict layers of photographic images of urban St. Louis landscapes. Like many large cities that were booming industrial towns, there are areas that are bustling with energy but also areas that are abandoned and forgotten. My images contrast the busy energy of downtown with the still, almost haunted feeling of the places that lie vacant. I use multiple-exposures in-camera to distort the time and place. This could be Detroit; this could be Berlin just after the Cold War; this could be any city struggling to reclaim its greatness.
This work is inspired by the feeling of being in a dream. Some things make sense, but not all of it. The location may be unclear. Parts of the image are in focus, and others are not. The perspective may be unsusual. Some things may be difficult to see. Some things may be scary, but others may be wonderful.
I think nature is magical. For these pieces, I created images with an ephemeral quality using historic photographic processes, including gum bichromate, cyanotype, and Van Dyke brown. I layered negatives to create more complex imagery, printed multiple layers using different negatives, and printing multiple layers using the same negative, but offset. A collection of these images was shown at the Indianapolis Art Center in 2007 in a show titled "Efflorescence: Non-Silver Photography by Erica Popp".
Feathers and Photograms
Photograms are often one of the first projects done in a darkroom photography class. It's simple to do, yet difficult to do well. The composition is key. My photogram work is inspired by the work of Anna Atkins, the first person to create a book of photographs. Her book on British Algae used the photogram technique on cyanotype, which I am using today. I tend to enjoy arranging objects on the paper as if they were scientific specimens, in a similar fashion to the way Atkins arranged her algae samples.