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David Schalliol

David Schalliol is an associate professor of sociology at St. Olaf College who is interested in the relationship between community, social structure, and place. He exhibits widely, including in the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Centre Régional de la Photographie Hauts-de-France, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. His work has been supported by institutions including the Graham Foundation and the European Union and featured in publications including MAS Context, The New York Times, and Social Science Research. David is the author of Isolated Building Studies and co-author, with Michael Carriere, of the The City Creative. He additionally contributes to such films as Almost There and Highrise: Out My Window, which won an International Digital Emmy for Non-Fiction. His directorial debut, The Area, premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. David earned his BA from Kenyon College and his MA and PhD from the University of Chicago.

Artist Statement

The Mississippi River watershed is almost unimaginably vast and varied. Trying to address the myriad dynamics that affect it seems impossible except to say something uselessly broad, like “They all relate to water.” But as a photographer and a sociologist who has lived almost his life within the watershed, I have a special interest in trying to understand it. Inspired by the environmental systems that unite the region, my project for New Middles focuses on two themes revealed in the landscape: systems of interconnection and representation.

Starting from the interconnections created by water, this project highlights the production, consumption, and distribution systems that generate local and global connections. Taking commercial agriculture as an example, the project puts small-scale community supported agriculture in southern Minnesota in dialogue with cattle feedlots in the Texas panhandle. In juxtaposition, we see how their shared reliance on the watershed manifests in dramatically different forms, pointing to the different dynamics that define their respective markets.

Amongst those complicated interconnections are also physical representations of people’s relationships with their surroundings. Along state highways and in residential neighborhoods are monumental forms of self-expression: oversized caricatures of Texan cowboys and murals expressing the hybrid iconography of Mexican-American life in rural Oklahoma. These creations say much about how people present themselves in relationship to the places where they live. By being public expressions, these works of art provide opportunities to connect with others through moments of curiosity, faith, and commerce, and ultimately reconnect with the political, economic, and cultural systems that facilitate the possibilities in the first place.

By combining these two elements, I wish to address those simultaneously personal and systematic interconnections between the environment, economics, and politics that are essential to understanding life these Middles. In the process, I hope that this locally-embedded approach can offer another inroad to establishing solutions to a changing climate, environmental justice, and more.

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Release Date: September 17, 2021

This photograph is at the intersection of two projects: my work in the Bean Creek neighborhood on Indianapolis’s south side and my Mississippi River Watershed project for Exhibit Columbus. Both projects foreground waterways as elements of the environment that influence us in profound and unexpected ways. Here, a remarkable handmade house sits on the east bank of the White River in Indianapolis, opposite a food manufacturing company on the west bank.