This site offers, in a newsletter format, updates and glimpses across the Local Archive collection.
If you subscribe today, you'll get full access to the website as well as an email newsletter that offers a different kind of dispatch from rural America, across space and time.
This newsletter will always be free and will never be used for any promotional purpose.
What is Local Archive?
Since 2016, Local Archive has collected thousands of rural newspaper photographs alongside representations of these same regions in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Across those differences in place, culture, and editorial context, the Archive documents the swift, and often contradictory, forms of change in rural communities – and how these dynamics are misunderstood in the urban-normative national conversation.
This collection will continue through 2040, a year in which experts have predicted both the final decline of the newspaper and the decisive shift in demographic and electoral majorities in the United States.
Local Archive is freely offered as a foundation for research, education, and creative projects. For much more information, please check out the About & FAQ above.
This work is curated by Matthew Fluharty. He is a member of M12 Studio, Executive Director of Art of the Rural, and an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Fellow. Matthew is from a multi-generational farming family in Appalachian Ohio, and he currently lives in Winona, Minnesota, a town located along the Mississippi River in Dakota homelands.
How did this begin?
In the spring of 2016, I began to more intentionally reflect on my everyday life. Time was resonating differently with me, and I felt compelled to try to document some of it, while also letting some of it go.
On Kawara’s work is deeply important to me, and I returned to his art in this moment. Sitting with his Today and I Read series eventually led me towards a reciprocal form of visual art that documented rural experience in a serial way: the vernacular photography of the real-photo postcard. Lucy Sante’s Folk Photography was a key aperture towards those connections.
At the time, I was writing about how the realities of non-urban places and cultures were changing more quickly than any of us (rural, urban, etc) could grasp, albeit for different reasons. The rural newspaper photograph became a talisman for me of this change – but also for its intense fragility. Like the real photo postcard, many of these printed images may no longer exist in any physical form beyond a few months after their publication. I felt compelled to preserve some of these photographs.
My family’s multi-generational history of rural journalism, and the challenges facing rural newspapers, all converge here. This was a daily practice that felt personal, intimate, but also threaded to currents that extended beyond my kitchen table. In the midst of all of this, I was deepening my practice with the Zen Garland Order, a community that is a part of what’s known as the Socially Engaged Buddhist movement. Gathering these photographs became part of that practice.
When did this become “Local Archive?”
I love sitting down with a local newspaper, reading its writers, and experiencing how these editors have chosen to visually represent their community. I feel real gratitude for the hard work and sacrifice that these newsrooms put into this creative product – despite the economic uncertainty that has come to characterize the field.
I've also seen firsthand how a declining newspaper can signal a subsequent decline in civic participation and community well-being. The rural newspaper is a living, physical metaphor for a local culture, in all its celebrations, disagreements, and aspirations. It is a fragile and beautiful thing.
This practice became Local Archive after the 2016 election changed the perceptions of the relationship between urban and rural. Out of the shock of that moment for many in the media industry, particularly The New York Times, came a different visual metaphor: Trump Country. While this visual trope has evolved in the years since, it still persists and it signifies an urban-normative narrative that runs against the grain of the complexities of lived, rural, experience.
The gap between these visual metaphors is the generative space of Local Archive, and it refracts different kinds of understanding back at both the NYT, WSJ, and these local publications. Local Archive is neither a condemnation of urban journalism nor a nostalgic defense of rural newspapers. It's a look at a chasm that has gained definition as the years have progressed from Trump to the trade war, the pandemic to the recession, and from carbon credits to mask mandates to the metaverse.
Where do you get all these newspapers?
Each morning, copies of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are delivered to my home, followed by additional newspapers from across the country that arrive via USPS in the afternoons. For the most part, these are weekly publications. I alternate these subscriptions once a year.
Friends and family also save newspapers for me. In addition, my work with Art of the Rural and M12 Studio takes me across rural and Indian Country; I’ve always stopped at gas stations to pick up the local papers, but as Local Archive emerged this practice became more focused.
How are they archived?
Photographs are cut from the newspaper alongside the headline, caption, and photo credit. In cases where copy is located immediately above, the closest three lines of text are also included.
These images are affixed to 8’ x 11” card stock with a single piece of Scotch Tape, and stored in archival document cases. Beyond the tape, these products are acid and lignin-free.
What is next for Local Archive?
I'm honored to share that the archive is included in the Field Notes exhibition of artists from rural and Indian Country at Form + Content Gallery in Minneapolis this fall. This contribution consists of a video installation and a newspaper catalogue, elements of which are shared here.
I'm currently working on a book project, and some accompanying essays, documenting the first six years of the archive.
The richness and difference within this archive is most powerfully felt when considering a deep range of photographs. I'm working in 2023 to find ways to offer this kind of archival experience both in person and online.
What does it all mean?
“It isn’t the wind that’s moving, and it isn’t the flag. It’s your mind that’s moving.
-- The Sixth Patriarch, The Platform Sutra