Spring 2021 Graduate Winner: Zachary Kaufman–Wabash, Far Away

CDRP/CIPS Documentary Photography Award

On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away is a nostalgic ballad about lost love and a childhood long past. It serves as Indiana’s state song and its inspiration, the Wabash River, is 503 miles long and traverses Indiana first east to west, then north to south. It is steeped in the state’s lore and identity.

The river also provides a geographical thread for a photographic essay, as it snakes through the Hoosier state. The photographic essay titled Wabash, Far Away has several chapters which combine portraiture, documentary and landscape photography for a cohesive narrative that explores communities in transition. It provides a deeper understanding of our neighbors while examining the shifting idea of national identity at a time of intense community divisiveness. The effort will culminate with a self-published book in the summer of 2022, which will be distributed to editors and curators across the
state and country. The project, which was started in late 2018, currently includes images from 9 counties, with thousands of miles driven and many miles walked through communities I visited on multiple occasions. As communities begin to open after a tumultuous period of isolation, there is an opportunity for further exploration during the remaining year before publication.

The Wabash River may rise just inside the Ohio border, but the river belongs to Indiana. Although it avoids the state’s largest population centers, the many towns and cities along the Wabash hold historic, cultural and institutional significance in both a historic and contemporary context. Waters from the Wabash touch a cross section of society indicative to the region’s large swaths of rural and rust belt communities. In many of the towns, families can be traced back for generations and attitudes are slow to change in the mostly conservative communities, yet change is inevitable. Dying mill towns, high rates of drug addiction and food insecurity, dot the course of the waterway. Those challenges are answered with stories of courage and resilience by a population largely invisible to much of the country, and who make meaningful contributions to the nation’s cultural fabric.