Skip navigation
Help

Iowa

warning: Creating default object from empty value in /var/www/vhosts/sayforward.com/subdomains/recorder/httpdocs/modules/taxonomy/taxonomy.pages.inc on line 33.

<< Previous | Next >>Webster City

Alazar "Junior" Soto lies in the Des Moines River while tubing on Sunday, July 15, 2012 in Lehigh, IA.
<< Previous | Next >>View all

When the Electrolux washing machine factory left Webster City, Iowa for Juarez, Mexico almost two years ago, it effectively knocked the town’s middle class to its knees. A sizable portion of the town’s population worked there, and they quickly found themselves scrambling to figure out what came next.

A couple of months after the plant closed down, photographer Brendan Hoffman first visited Webster City, which sits about 75 miles north of Des Moines. He was following former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who, at the time, was campaigning in the Republican presidential primary. The plight of the town presented itself to him as the bigger story.

“It was a story that I felt conflicted about and those are the kind of stories I’m most drawn to,” says Hoffman, who is a member of the Prime collective. “Sure, some of the people in Webster City are going to tell you that they got screwed over. But at the same time if we are going to consider this country to be a free-market democracy, whose is to stop [the company] from deciding that they can be more efficient by moving production to Mexico?”

Hoffman also knew he could follow the story beyond Iowa. One of his colleagues in Prime, Dominic Bracco, has been working in Juarez for years and could help him find the people who now work the jobs that used to belong to the residents of Webster City.

“This was a solidly middle class job when it was in Iowa and I’d like to see if it’s creating the same kind of jobs in Mexico,” he says.

Hoffman has been back to Webster City three times, putting together an ethnography of the town. In the spring he hopes to travel to Juarez to document the new Electrolux factory and have the story done by 2014, in time for NAFTA’s 20-year anniversary.

Instead of focusing on just one family in Webster City, he’s chosen to look more broadly at moments that slowly weave together a complicated story about a place in transition.

“I don’t think there is any way to ignore the fact that this is a major blow for the town. I wouldn’t be doing my job of being objective if I tried to gloss over that,” he says. “But at the same time it isn’t a surprise that companies have the option to move to a lower-wage country. The question comes up about whether the company has any responsibility to the town. I also don’t see why people aren’t more prepared for this kind of thing.”

While the Electrolux plant didn’t employ the entire town, Hoffman says the closing still had a seismic effect on everyone there. For those that did lose their jobs he says the Federal Government has stepped in and helped many of them go back to school through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. Some former employees are also still living on unemployment while they look for new work. Others have ended up losing everything.

Showing this complexity in photos is difficult. Hoffman has the photo of a Webster City resident on his lawn with all his possession lined after being evicted and the photo of the shuttered plant. But he also has the photo of a dad joking around with his kids as they lay out under the stars on a summer night.

The dad, Steve McFarland, actually shows up in several of the photos. McFarland was never an Electrolux employee (he builds houses and frequently works outside Webster City) but for Hoffman he signifies someone who has found a way to work through the general economic problems in the town. Within the context of the story McFarland helps show the viewer that not everyone has thrown up their arms in despair.

“He’s not someone who worries about this future at all,” Hoffman says. “That’s probably unique in some ways, but he manages every week to have a couple dollars left over and as long as there’s something left over it’s all good.”

Some of Hoffman’s photos are more ambiguous. This summer, for example, he shot photos during the county fair, including the fair queens and the local parade. While people still lined the streets and dressed up for the contest, he says the whole event felt a little forced.

“It all kinda felt like an attempt to remain stoic,” he says. “They were trying to stay straight faced and let people know that everything is fine because look, our daughters can still be beauty queens.”

Struggling towns are nothing new in the United States, but Hoffman says he hopes that by visiting Juarez his work can provide a more three-dimensional view of an ongoing story that has affected much of the country. He’s been pushing to get an edit of the photos out before he heads to Mexico because this is an election year. Politicians on both sides love to toss around the word “middle class,” and with his story, Hoffman has provide them with a picture of what real life in the middle, or former middle, class really looks like.

“In the end I think people have to take responsibility for their own lives,” he says. “But imagine that you’re 50 years old and that’s the only job you ever had. All of sudden you have to find something new to do and maybe move somewhere new. That’s a really difficult decision for some people.”

0
Your rating: None

Lars Tunbjörk is accustomed to seeking out the absurd. And on his first assignment covering U.S. politics, the Swedish photographer, best known for capturing the subtle humor in his native country’s suburban landscapes, didn’t need to look too hard. The frenzy of candidates, crowds and media that accompanied the Republican caucuses earlier this week in Iowa gave Tunbjörk absurdity by the ballotbox-full. This series of revealing and often humorous photos, commissioned to illustrate TIME‘s political coverage in the magazine and online, is a remarkable snapshot of American democracy in action. Tunbjörk often arrived early to watch campaign workers set up and stayed long after the the spectacle ended to capture them breaking down the stages. “The people of Iowa work hard during the process and take it very seriously,” the photographer says.

With a fresh eye, strong flash and unusual compositions, Tunbjörk captured the personality-driven candidacy of Rick Santorum as he prayed before a plate of nachos in Johnston, Iowa, and discovered Mitt Romney’s robotic rhetorical repetition on the trail in Clive and West Des Moines. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann were also photographed, and Tunbjörk shows the full spectrum of the long days both the candidates and Iowans endure, waiting at events and standing out in the cold during the sometimes grueling caucus process. Under the Iowa big-top, the marvels never cease. “Sweden is such a quiet country,” Tunbjörk says. “And this process is such a circus.”

Lars Tunbjörk is a Stockholm-based photographer and represented by Agence Vu in Paris and by the Gun Gallery in Sweden and Paul Amador Gallery in New York. He is the author of Vinter (Steidl, 2007) and his next book, L.A. Office (MACK) will be out this spring.  

Adam Sorensen is an associate editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter at @adamsorensen.

0
Your rating: None

Tuesday’s Iowa caucus goes down in the history books as a photo finish for an epic race. Mitt Romney edged out victory over Rick Santorum by just eight votes, with Ron Paul finishing not far behind. Iowa City photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier, who has been covering the race in the Hawkeye State for TIME, offers an inside look at this the quintessential American saga from its early to final days, and in chronicling this path, he sheds light on a Republican spirit ready to take on Barack Obama.

Frazier’s lens captures the sentiments not just of the candidates but also of the voters, as well as the reporters who’ve covered them both. For Frazier, the Iowa path is well-worn. He traced the campaign trail for the magazine in 2008, and now, four years and a recession later, the state’s mood appears expectant and committed. The Tea Party vigor has muted, but the determination for change has not. It is apparent in the eyes of those he photographed, from Occupy Des Moines protesters to Faith and Freedom Coalition banqueters to veterans at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, all of whom were preparing to make 2012’s first great decision. And when you behold his images of empty audience chairs after campaign stops and candidate speeches, you can’t help but feel the present investment Iowans—and all the nation’s Republicans—feel in their political future.

“I followed Republican presidential hopefuls as they addressed voters in kitchens, cafes, and town halls—candidates opening themselves up to unexpected questions as they met face to face with factory workers, farmers and residents of a state that is questioned over its first in the nation status once every four years,” Frazier said. “Attack ads paid off, as did the traditional formula of visiting all 99 counties and doing the ‘work’ that wins Iowa.”

Several of Frazier’s photos have already become some of the election’s most memorable. He snapped Michele Bachmann moments after she declared her candidacy in June, and Newt Gingrich as he was getting his makeup done for a November interview—both of which were featured in the pages of TIME last year. Then there are his images of Rick Perry hunting pheasants with Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in October and Rick Santorum following suit two months later. Some things never change—you have to know the game to play the race.

Danny Wilcox Frazier is a photographer with Redux who is based in Iowa City.

Elizabeth Dias is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau. Find her on Twitter @elizabethjdias.

0
Your rating: None

Both New Hampshire and Iowa play a decisive role in shaping U.S. politics as they kick off the selection process for the Republican nominee to face President Obama in 2012. Photographers Brian Snyder and Jessica Rinaldi are documenting four towns (West Liberty and Independence in Iowa, Unity and Freedom in New Hampshire) in an effort to paint a picture of the people and the issues that matter to them. The showcase below will be updated with the stories of people Brian and Jessica meet throughout the next week.

0
Your rating: None