When you live in California it’s almost too easy to make fun of the Midwest for being remote or boring, but Ohio holds a special little place in my heart. Whenever someone asks me where my school (Oberlin College, home of Lena Dunham and target of every Atlantic think-piece about progressive millennials) is located, I affectionately refer to the state as Cornfield Hell, but I really do think it’s one of my favorite places, maybe even more than Southern California.
This past fall I took a class on experimental ecocinema, an extraordinarily niche subdivision of cinema studies that’s exactly what it sounds like: experimental films that relate to ecology and the environment. The class required a creative project and I wanted to take that idea of “ecocinema” to its logical extreme; I found some film negatives from disposable camera pictures of my best friends that I had taken over the past year and buried those negatives under piles of dirt and leaves outside my dorm for about five rainy Ohio days.
The idea is hardly original, and two of my favorite experimental films ever are definite precedents for it: Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses – more or less a sex tape she made with her boyfriend that she subsequently painted over, collaged on, burnt, and scratched to make something that is already deeply intimate even more physical and personal – and Tomonari Nishikawa’s Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars – a roll of raw film that was buried a short distance from the Fukushima meltdown and which bears an eerily beautiful visual echo of the ample radiation in the ground.
My intent was a little less grave than that of Nishikawa and more in line with Scheemann’s personal approach. I wanted to let my environment leave a tangible imprint on these meaningful photos of the people I love the most in the place I (arguably!) love the most. The photos, taken between January and August 2016 and buried in early November, are literally marked by Ohio; some photos dramatically changed color, some were stained by the dirt and rainwater, and many deteriorated almost entirely, but they’re all grounded in a very specific and very special time and place for me.
I just remembered the photos again a few days ago and looking back on them makes these few months in sunny California feel comparatively cold without my pals around. I’m eternally grateful for Cornfield Hell and for all the people in these pictures.