Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Oxford Project by Peter Feldstein and Stephen Bloom

The Oxford Project is a captivating non-fiction title and a 2009 Alex Award winner. The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year's publishing.

This book began in 1984 when photographer Peter Feldstein decided that he wanted to photograph every resident in the town of Oxford Iowa - a total of 676 people. The photographs were done as un-posed shots, and captured residents in their everyday clothes going about their normal lives. These images were put away until 20 years later he re-photographed all of the original residents who still lived in the town, and partnered with author Stephen Bloom to capture their stories. What you end up with is an anthropologic snapshot of small town America.

The Oxford Project is a large “coffee table” book with beautifully arranged side-by-side photographs. This allows you to really see the details of how life physically changes a person over 20 years. Some people looked the same, some looked older, children grew up, couples became widows and widowers, conservative looking moms became motorcycle mamas, people lost fingers in farm equipment, etc. Some of the stories were inspirational, some were tragic.

One strength of The Oxford Project is the fact that many people were comfortable enough to share some of their most intimate details including descriptions of depression, alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder. This said - to me, the most interesting aspect of this book is the descriptions of daily small town life. For example, many people mentioned what time they got up in the morning, what they ate for breakfast and then followed this up with their philosophical outlook on life.

After reading The Oxford Project I actually felt like I had a clearer view of humanity. Often media and literature focus purely on the extreme, bizarre and extraordinary. This book showed me that there is quite a bit to discover and enjoy by taking a moment to look closely at ordinary everyday life.

Check out The Oxford Project at VBPL today.

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