'Cornfed' Book Showcases Missouri's Wild and Beautiful Sides

REUBEN HEMMER
REUBEN HEMMER
The Midwest often carries the stereotype of being "flyover country," filled with farmland and simple living. Though there are truths to this stereotype, the reality of the Midwest is far more complex. This area contains fascinating stories, eccentric characters, and many lessons to be learned.

The majority of my youth was spent in Belleville, Illinois, and it took me many years to appreciate the setting I grew up in. I was a military brat and joined the military myself, which led me to move to places like Germany, South Korea and New Orleans. Only then, when I was far away from home, did I realize how special the Midwest truly is.

The blessing and the curse of the Midwest is that there are no frills, and what you see is what you get. However, there is something so delightfully genuine within that reality. Inspired by spending many nights under neon lights in small town bars, riding lawnmower demolition derbies, attending action-packed rodeos, and hanging around legendary south city personalities, one day I thought it would be fun to pick up a camera and attempt to document our Midwestern culture.

A few years later I was surprised to find myself taking photos for the Riverfront Times — mainly for a column titled "Missouriland," which portrays the people, places and events that make Missouri uniquely Missouri.

It began with covering Mark McCloskey's sad, surreal and gun toting BBQ, and come to include rallies for transgender rights at the Missouri State Capitol. The biggest lesson I have learned from taking photos across the region is that a cultural divide is constantly being pushed, yet the truth is we are really not all that different from each other.

We live in a time where neighbors refrain from speaking to one another, and people are wary of strangers — yet I believe we could learn so much from talking to the person next to us. My hope is to display these lessons learned in my first photo book titled Cornfed: Images of the Midwest and Rural America. The book contains nearly 200 photos of people, places, and festivities shot in an objective light. Many of the photos in Cornfed have appeared in the Riverfront Times, and include photos taken in the Midwest and neighboring states from 2019-2023, a deeply polarizing and transformative period of time in America.

The book is organized by seasons with the intention of creating the feeling of a year spent in the central and southern United States, from its brutal winters to its humid summers. This all came to be fruition thanks to a friend and native south St. Louisan, Jessica Devine Wilson. Jessica is a publisher and editor for a German publishing house called Snap Collective, which has satellite locations all over Europe.

Snap Collective recently opened its very first American location in the Bay Area, where Jessica (now living in Oakland) is tasked with working with artists of all disciplines to publish limited-edition handmade books of their work. Jessica has made it a mission to bring representation to Midwestern artists and reached out to make this book. Snap Collective will also soon be publishing books by notable St. Louis artists Josh Levi and Yowshien Kuo, further representing the creativity and beauty of the Midwest.

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