Chelsea Darter received her MFA at Columbia College Chicago in 2018 and her BFA from The University of Iowa in 2013. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and featured online by Light Leaked, Aint-Bad, and Fraction Magazine. Her personal work explores themes of place attachment, class, familial connection and local mythologies. She lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: A Prairie Fisher King

2016 – ongoing

Named after the wounded Fisher King of Arthurian Legend, A Prairie Fisher King espouses the notion of home as both a site of idealization and a locus for wounding. Drawing from memory, a narrative is woven in the form of photographs and text of the rural Iowa countryside where my family has lived for generations.

A Prairie Fisher King is an ongoing body of work reflecting on the nature of familial hardship and generational connection through the lens of place. An undertone of violence embodies the emotional distress accumulated with age as well as a looming threat posed upon the landscape.

Initially conceived as a bittersweet love letter to home, A Prairie Fisher King considers the various myths we construct in order to survive in the face of inevitable change. Through the accumulation of intimately described detail a search for reconciliation becomes palpable. I assume the role of reluctant hero and return to seek the damaged king, to seal old wounds and to salve the land.

© Chelsea Darter

© Chelsea Darter

When and where did A Prairie Fisher King begin?

I started this project when I came into grad school in 2016. I grew up in the rural Midwest where my family has deep roots. At the time I was thinking a lot about my relationship to my family and my hometown, particularly in light of the political and economic changes happening there. The work stemmed from this contradiction of being drawn to the familiar, but at the same time feeling averse to it. I was also grappling with my own participation in rural flight and determining where my responsibility lied.  

Initially I was cherry-picking post-industrial towns to photograph, but over time the work became increasingly personal until I was photographing my family and writing about first hand experiences. Ultimately I wanted the work to come from this deep sense of rootedness and the complications that arise from change.

Where do you see this project going?

This is an ongoing project. I recently moved across the country so it’s on a bit of a natural pause at the moment, but the project doesn’t feel done. There are still aspects I would like to flesh out. Ultimately the project is about my ongoing relationship to this place, something I don’t think can be properly summed up within 2 years of shooting. Earlier this year I compiled the work into a book, alternating the photographs between prose, a process that added a new dimension to the work. I would like to see that process expanded and fine-tuned.

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

Being apart of a creative community really feeds my own practice, whether it’s attending local openings, keeping up with fellow artist friends, or even scrolling through instagram. I’m constantly inspired by the work others are creating.

I’m also an individual that needs to set aside time to be alone. I spend a lot of time thinking through concepts, reading and writing. I’m constantly jotting down lists and idea sketches. Otherwise I generally stay productive through my own obsessive compulsive neuroses. Gotta love crossing that item off your to-do list.

What’s next for you?

I’m included in two group exhibitions at the moment, one affiliated with my former grad program, Columbia College Chicago and another upcoming show at Flower City Arts Center in Rochester juried by Sara Macel. I’m also in the beginning stages of a new project and planning a new chapter for A Prairie Fisher King for when I visit the Midwest over the holidays.