Nathan Pearce (born 1986) is a photographer based in Southern Illinois. He also works in an auto body repair shop.
With that two-sentence biography on his website, here is what I have learned about a photographer I am watching. Nathan Pearce was 18 years old when he packed his bags and left his home in rural Illinois. His dream was to find the perfect place for his wandering spirit, but instead he simply found a place to live. His wild and reckless youth was in full swing when he left, and while he was gone for 10 years, the call of home constantly beckoned. He finally returned just a few years ago, this time with his camera, to produce a series he calls “Midwest Dirt.”
Pearce, who is now approaching 30, still isn’t sure if ‘home’ will give him what he wants, or even more importantly, if he will stay there. But he is a photographer now, back to become one again with the small town he couldn’t leave behind. “Midwest Dirt” speaks to a time in his mid-twenties, when Pearce could “feel the tension between home and away.”
These photographs have emerged from someone accepted into the local community. An outsider could never do it. The best documentary photographers know this. They take us places where we do not belong and allow us in.
There is an unassuming honesty and beauty in Pearce’s photographs. There is pathos too. His images reveal the weight of people with small town lives. If you do not know what that is, all you have to do is look at his pictures. Pearce left that life once, and with new eyes, returned a decade later to make these photographs.
Pearce says it best with his description of Midwest Dirt: “Growing up in a small town can breed a specific type of restlessness. It is the restlessness of having nothing to do. There is not a lot of “new” that happens there. After a while, the restlessness can agitate to the point where the impulse to seek adventure in a new place can’t be denied. And you leave, heading for the dramatic possibilities of the city. What you don’t realize is that the city doesn’t quench the restlessness but fuels it. You miss harvest season, when you can drink a beer on your porch and see for miles. Angst turns into tenderness, and with something between resignation and acceptance, you go home. It is only in the return that you realize there is beauty in having nothing to do.”
I think everyone yearns for home. Whether Pearce stays there is not important. As long as he has his camera, and the motivation, he’ll continue to give us powerful images like these.