The Ozark Plateau is an elevated span of land spreading mostly through Arkansas and Missouri, punctuated with free flowing rivers, limestone bluffs, oak-hickory covered hills, and rolling pastureland. Ozark Life is a long-term project that explores the everyday stories and connections of the people who call this isolated, rural region of the US home, where the census reports there are 12.3 people living per square mile. As a mother and documentary photographer raising two young children in the middle of the Arkansas Ozarks, I have an insider perspective and intimate appreciation for the community and culture that surrounds us. By introducing you to my family, friends and community, I hope to break down stereotypes that outsiders may have about this rural region by telling the compelling stories of our lives, sharing the narratives that are both unique to this landscape, yet fundamentally human.
People within the Ozarks often communicate through the work of hands, through tangible means — which relates back to their deep connection to the land. Hunting, fishing, logging and farming were common practices of early settlers to this region and still account for a large part of everyday life today. A young family introducing their newborn baby to one of the ranch horses — he will be the fifth generation of Norton to grow up and raise cattle on the same soil. My daughter talking to her dad on the phone because he’s out fighting wildfires for work—the land plays an important, almost unspoken, role in daily life.
I personally grew up in the Chicago Suburbs, but have lived rural the past 18 years. I have an understanding that this Ozark Life looks different on the outside than the way most people live. I think it’s easy for urban/suburban dwellers to cast off rural regions of the US as being a whole different world that they don’t understand and can’t relate to. And therefore, there is a cultural divide which most definitely crosses into the political arena. This project is a way to have a conversation between me, women and families in this region and those living beyond these hills. I believe that any time can we help others understand a way of life that appears different from theirs by relating it back to the common human experience, there is potential to bridge a gap and inspire compassion and camaraderie. For me as a mother, this project is a passion, a creative outlet during my daily grind, a way to connect and grow in my community, a way to find the common humanity in the people I was surrounded with growing up in the suburbs to those I am surrounded by today.
This project spans the past two years, and I plan to continue documenting my community in this same way for at least 10 more, when my oldest child will graduate from high school — sharing and presenting these visual narratives both inside and outside of my community throughout the process.