I love to tell the story of how I met John Shimon and Julie Lindemann when we were all in prison. It’s true, although the story loses some of its Johnny Cash punch when I admit we were there working on a story for the New York Times Magazine. It was a few years back (as more and more things are these days). I was writing about the concept of “home” as it relates to prisoners living out a life sentence. John and Julie were shooting the photos. When I approached the prison lobby and saw them waiting, I cringed. There was Johnny in his vintage togs and Julie in what can only be described as a black thrift-store slip plus rhinestoned cat-eye glasses. I was in my standard boots, jeans and t-shirt. Preserve us, I thought, from the artful hipsters.
After we were done in the prison (we survived a lockdown!), we retreated to the darkened back room of a bar in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. And as I wrote in the postcript of Off Main Street:
Turned out we were all three products of rural Wisconsin. John’s dad raised hogs, Julie’s father was a cheesemaker. My family milked cows and raised sheep. We talked 4H, FFA, and lambing, and parsed the virtues of Holstein production versus Jersey cream.
We talked for a long time at the little table, and when it was time to go, we vowed to work together whenever possible. At the time I had no idea I’d one day be writing books. When Coop comes out, it will mark the fourth time John and Julie have supplied the cover image for one of my books. Beyond that, we’ve collaborated on a number of other projects. In that same postcript, I tried to explain why I have come to so admire them and their work:It helps, I think, that Shimon and Lindemann work among their own people. After a valuable postadolescent stretch in dislocation — art school, pink hair, punk band (Hollywood Autopsy), music ‘zine (Catholic Guilt), a stretch in New York City’s East Village art scene — they have been working out of hometown Manitowoc, Wisconsin, for the past thirteen years…They respect their audience by respecting their subjects, who, while forced into extended poses out of deference to the archaic nature of the equipment [John and Julie employ vintage gear], address the camera full on, often with stark intensity. Whether their subjects are plain or eccentric, strong or downtrodden, you get the sense they are standing there under their own power, in every sense of the phrase.
It’s perfect then, that the title of their new book is What We Do Here. I’m honored to say I have an essay in there amongst the beautiful images. It’s a story about taking my daughter to the feed mill and how it triggered memories of going to the feed mill with my father when I was her age, and how I was awed by the monstrous maw of the grinder and likewise thrilled with the mill where we were allowed to stay in the cab while a cabled rigging lifted up the entire pickup truck and tipped the corn cobs out the back like dumping a dust pan.
There is also a photo of me with pigs.
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