KURT ULLRICH | “I Am Everyday People” Photography Exhibit
Saturday, January 7, 2017 – Mon, March 6, 2017
Meet the Artist Reception
Sunday, January 22, 2017 |1-4 pm
Free and Open to the Public
Writer/photographer Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County, Iowa. Over the years he has written extensively for such places as the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Houston Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Des Moines Register, and many others.
His photographs have appeared in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Des Moines Register, and countless other news outlets.
Since 2014 exhibits of Ullrich’s black & white photographs have been curated at the Dubuque Museum of Art in Dubuque, IA; Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City, IA; the Iowa History Center in Indianola, IA; the Beverly Arts Center in Chicago, IL; and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Sioux City, IA.
Kurt’s book of black & white photos and essays “The Iowa State Fair” was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2014.
I suppose it begins with a crude wooden cross sitting above a ditch on a long curve of highway, an otherworldly ribbon of fabric shawling in the summer breeze across outstretched arms. Later, in a nearby town, a guy says that five children died at that place a few months back and profound sadness fills in the awkward spots and I can’t think of anything remotely meaningful to say.
A hundred miles away an embalmer dons a blood-born- pathogen-flak-jacket and waits for the next customer, maybe an old man, wheezing the last one out, loved ones at his side, or maybe a child. Across town a florist, resolute and beautiful in the way women are who have owned their own businesses for decades, puts together another bouquet for another grieving family or another happy bride, and the names all run together.
Out on a hot summer street a legless drummer pounds away on a plastic pail, asking for money, the sun reflecting heat in a way that gets to all of us, and he smiles on occasion, beating back the unfairness of it all, a world he can only judge from the waist-high vantage of a wheeled chair, and just down the street a couple of frat-boy types puff on cigars from the back seat of a vintage Rolls Royce rolling around midtown and damn isn’t the world a truly peculiar place.
A second-generation service station owner still handles the pumps for his customers, just like his father before him, and surely he must be the last one in the country still offering actual rather than implied service. Corporate America would do well to spend a day with him, or perhaps with the young man who occasionally keeps his dragster on the family farm of his growing, because he can teach a class about patience and quiet times in preparing his machine for deafening sounds on hot summer nights when a drag-strip Christmas tree counts down to blast off and it’s all over in a few seconds.
American flags are ubiquitous, even on chairs at a car show, a new tolerance and maybe an unnecessary jingoism that didn’t exist half a century ago when we were condemned and called unpatriotic for not wanting war and for having a flag embroidered on a blue denim jacket.
Other flags show up as well. One day after nine African-Americans are gunned down in a South Carolina church by a racist I’m chatting with a be-hatted cowboy at a rodeo and it isn’t until I see the photo later that the Confederate flag on his shirt grabs me and says wait a minute, and all while holding a beer produced by a company monumentally influential in the Nixon White House and you wonder how we can be so different and still occupy the same space and this is either a great country or God knows what.
As the wicked witch in Oz intoned ‘Oh what a world!’ and signs of a savior show up everywhere, on a street corner handing out pamphlets, on the sides of a truck outside a sad residential motel and, expectedly, in a place of worship.
On a quiet Sunday I stop by a country church and it’s mostly the elderly who attend but in the front row the youth are offered a special message and my heart aches at how hopeful and beautiful they all are. The same beauty shows on the face of a young homeless woman who, despite her hunger and her circumstances, looks directly at the camera with a slight smile, wanting to look her best, still trusting in the future of a world that may not deserve her trust. And of all of these people perhaps she’s the one we should emulate, a woman in trouble who maintains hope because what else is there.
An elegant woman sits on a high stool in a fancy department store while another puts make-up on her face and I stare too long, and I wonder if she has known love and I can’t figure out why it matters or why I should care, because I hope she has. Does she have anything in common with a counter-culture hitchhiker who settles next to a highway with her computer open, likely warmed by a Wi-Fi hotspot from a nearby house, or even the pretty ROTC blonde newly graduated to Second Lieutenant and my gosh you just can’t help wondering these things.
In his glorious song “Everyday People” Sly Stone mentions a butcher, a banker, and a drummer and I leave the banker in a folder, not yet ready to hang a moneylender on a wall, preferring the company of good-looking, happy newlyweds or a hard-working welder who simply does his job, making no demands except to be treated fairly and left alone. These people cause me to want to spread my old wings, even just a little, because in the end we’re all stuck here, earthbound, people who will always fail, people who would be wise to make the best of whatever time remains.
It’s what everyday people do.