2017 - Ongoing
The Ozark Plateau is an elevated span of land spreading mostly through Arkansas and Missouri, punctuated with free-flowing rivers, limestone bluffs, oak-hickory covered hills, and rolling pastureland. Ozark Life is a long-term project that explores the everyday stories and connections of the people who call this rural region of the US home, where the census reports there are 12.3 people living per square mile. As a mother and documentary photographer raising two young children in the middle of the Arkansas Ozarks, I have an insider perspective and intimate appreciation for the community and culture that surrounds us. By introducing you to my family, friends and community, I hope to break down stereotypes that outsiders may have about rural communities by telling the compelling stories of our lives, sharing the narratives that are both unique to this landscape, yet fundamentally human.
People within the Ozarks often communicate through the work of hands, through tangible means — which relates back to their deep connection to the land. Hunting, fishing, logging and farming were common practices of early settlers to this region and still account for a large part of everyday life today. A young family introducing their newborn baby to one of the ranch horses — he will be the fifth generation of Norton to grow up and raise cattle on the same soil. The Usrey family suited up and collecting honey from the family’s hives that are scattered about their farm—the land plays an important, almost unspoken, role in daily life.
For the first 18 years of my life, I grew up in the Chicago Suburbs, but have lived rurally the most recent 19 years. I have an understanding that this Ozark Life looks different on the outside than the way most people live. This project is a way to have a conversation between those in our region and those living closer to the city skylines. I believe that any time can we help others understand a way of life that appears different from theirs by relating it back to the common human experience, there is potential to bridge a gap and inspire camaraderie. For me as a mother, this project is a passion, a creative outlet during my daily grind, a way to connect and grow in my community, a personal challenge to explore the common threads of humanity between where I grew up and where I live now. To celebrate the situations unique to these hills and life in rural landscapes.
This project spans the past three years, and I plan to continue documenting my community in this same way for at least 9 more, when my oldest child will graduate from high school — sharing and presenting these visual narratives both inside and outside of my community throughout the process.