Kurt Simonson: Northwoods Journals
In many ways, this book has become my own answer to my grandmother’s envelope, a dialogue with her and my other grandmother about our family (and hopefully by extension, a narrative that moves others to consider their own family patterns).
My friend Kurt Simonson has just released his first monograph, Northwoods Journals, published by Flash Powder Projects. I had the great pleasure of receiving a copy at the Medium Festival of Photography in San Diego, and it’s beautifully printed and considered. Over the years, I have had ringside seat to the progress of this series and had the privilege of seeing the work in exhibition that brought the project to a whole new level of interpretation. Kurt been working on the Northwoods Journals project for almost 15 years and the result is a book that combines photography and ephemera into “a disconnected family narrative that is marked by secrets, weathered by seasons, colored with dry humor, and haunted by death. The work forms a lyrical and strange family album, a collection of photographs that speaks to the complex merger of myth and memory that Kurt has encountered as he seeks to establish his own sense of place, story, and identity”. The book is available now through the artist directly, at the Flash Powder Projects website, and at select photobook stores like Photo Eye.
Kurt Simonson (b. 1977 in St Paul, Minnesota) is an artist/educator whose work explores the longings and tensions that surround our ideas of home, community, and identity. Whether connecting the myth and memory of his upbringing in Minnesota, wandering the globe in search of alternate forms of community, or taking intimate portraits of his closest friends, questions about family, story, and belonging remain at the heart of his curiosity.
Kurt’s work is regularly exhibited throughout the country and internationally, including a recent solo exhibition at Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon, and group exhibits at the San Diego Museum of Art, the Center for Fine Art Photography (Fort Collins, Colorado), RayKo Photo Center (San Francisco, California), and the Foto8 Gallery in London, England. His work has been published in the London Sunday Times Magazine, Fraction Magazine, Lenscratch, AintBad, and Dodho Magazine. In 2012, he received a Curator’s Choice Award from CENTER Santa Fe and was shortlisted in Photolucida’s Critical Mass, and in 2015, he was named one of LensCulture’s 50 Emerging Talents.
Kurt teaches at Biola University in La Mirada, California, where he is an Associate Professor of Photography in the Art Department. He lives and works in Long Beach, where you can probably find him eating breakfast.
I must have been ten or eleven years old when I first ran across the peculiar envelope that bore my grandmother’s shaky handwriting: “not to be opened until my death.” Tucked in her top dresser drawer amidst other valuables, its striking phrase burned into my memory at a young age. I don’t know exactly when, and I don’t know how often, but I know I visited the envelope numerous times, pondering what could be inside. What could be so important (or tragic) that it must be kept secret in this way?
I left Minnesota nearly twenty years ago, and yet it has never left me. The images in this book are artifacts of the myths and memories that have distressed me, challenged me, and shaped me. There are the woods—a place of childhood adventures, and yet a place of fear, a place where things go to hide (or be buried). There are the rivers and lakes, sources of both life and death in my family’s story. There are the afghan blankets, hand-crocheted by my grandmother, objects that both comfort and conceal. There are also my grandmothers’ Bibles with evidence of struggles unspoken, prayers of sincere faith in a different reality.
But most of all, there is that envelope. I have never been able to shake the hold that piece of paper had over me. More than just a letter—I was haunted by what it represented. Loaded with latent meaning, yet withholding its story, that envelope is my experience of growing up in Minnesota. Northwoods Journals is largely about bearing the weight of secrets, living with the tension of things unknown, and searching for a different way forward.
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