Some Like It Hot

From the May 6th issue of Omaha's Shout! Weekly...

Sweet Home Nebraska
"There's not a lot of money in being a quirky photographer from Nebraska," Joseph Vavak admitted with a laugh - but that doesn't seem to have slowed his pursuit.

The quirky photographer from Nebraska recently completed a project entitled "ninety-three," a visual travelogue of the Cornhusker State, a "notebook," Vavak said. "Rather than looking for something specific, I just go. Whatever I run into, I take pictures. It's kind of a documentation of what I saw.. found photographs, you could say."

Vavak began the project in 2007 after researching his genealogy and the history of his family in Nebraska. "There's actually a small graveyard in a field [that] was the original gravesite of the Vavaks who [first] came here," he said. "I took photographs of that to start with, and I didn't know what I was going to do with it."

But, like many artistic developments, "it spiraled out of control." Vavak began a series of two and three-day excursions across the state, documenting as he went. The result was "ninety-three" - one photograph from each of Nebraska's 93 counties.

Capturing Nebraska in postcard-like snippets, the images reflect the mixed small town and rural landscape of signage, storefronts, farm-houses and fields. The display of tight, orderly rows serves to highlight the photographer's eyes for symmetry, and the colors are crisp and clean - wheat, whitewash, asphalt and rust, with overtones of sun and sky. Even farm town dilapidation - peeling paint, broken clapboard, old murals - feels fresh in this light.

"[It's] just taking the little details that maybe people overlook, that are all around us," said Vavak, "and putting them in a context where they are interesting."

The images themselves are, perhaps, what one would expect of a photodocumentary of the Midwest - cows in cornfields, grain, silos, run-down sheds - but in front of Vavak's lens, Nebraska comes across with beautiful, bright simplicity.

"I've learned that I really like it here," Vavak said of his travels. Currently in south Omaha, he has lived in Nebraska since he was a teenager. "I considered it home beforehand, but I really feel like Nebraska has a lot to offer that people don't necessarily see... I know there's a lot more to it than what we see here on the east end."

Shout! Weekly is available for free throughout the Omaha metro area. Thank you to Lisa Martin for the kind words and covering the Hot Shops open house.

If you haven't had a chance to see it yet, ninety-three will be be on display through the end of May.