THE OXFORD PROJECT by Peter Feldstein and Stephen Bloom

the oxford project, photographs, oxford, iowa, 7up series
If you’re a fan of the 7 Up series or other movies/books that look at people’s lives over a series of time, you might enjoy The Oxford Project, by Peter Feldstein and Stephen Bloom.   In 1984, Feldstein photographed 670 of the 676 residents of his town of Oxford, Iowa – one take each, standing in front of a simple backdrop in an empty storefront. Twenty years later, he did the same thing, with the same people. His co-author, Stephen Bloom, briefly interviewed each of the residents as they were being photographed and wrote up a few paragraphs about the subjects to accompany their photos.

The Oxford Project is basically a coffee table book, as the photos are predominant and the text spare. The photos are unflinchingly honest, showing these residents for better or worse. The twenty years turn some from kids into young adults; from thin middle-aged women into plumper older women; from young active men with robust heads of hair to balding men with protuding stomachs. The passing of years is always bittersweet to witness, but Bloom’s summaries of the interviews (done from memory, never from notes) add another dimension that make the book even richer. The subjects go through many sad transitions – the loss of children and parents; the abandoment of professional dreams; the enduring of illnesses and bankruptcies and loneliness. But there are also joys – children and marriages, and the simple pleasures of pets and travel and hobbies.

I enjoyed reading The Oxford Project, a book that I picked up and put down over the course of a month or so. I liked the voyeuristic nature of it, catching glimpses of these people’s lives and their ups and downs. It’s a superficial read, of course, given that each person only gets a few paragraphs, and it’s necessarily a bit ephemeral. Cumulatively, though, these short profiles give the reader a rich view of this small American town and the variety (or lack therof) it contains.

Not my usual read, but a nice break!