Wider Scope

What We Do Here

photo book proves we’re not entirely about cows, beer, and cheese

Claire Jeffries |

What We Do Here, a book of photographs produced by John Shimon and Julie Lindemann, takes a closer look at Wisconsin’s everyday people. Shimon and Lindemann have been photographing Wisconsinites for more than 20 years. Above: Nickel Brothers baling Hay, Kaukauna, Wisconsin, 2006

John Shimon and Julie Lindemann have been photographing together since the mid-80s. They met in Madison, where they both went to college, and subsequently created the band Hollywood Autopsy. Although their musical career did not work out, they packed their bags and headed to New York, where any photographer, writer, or actor goes to become a professional. Within a year, Shimon and Lindemann realized that their best photography came from images that they knew, and returned back home to the Cheese State, where they’ve been photographing Wisconsinites for more than 20 years now.

Thus, it is fitting that they authored the book What We Do Here, which came out this past December. The book is full of photographs of the people and landscapes of Wisconsin; these pictures ponder not only the occupations, but also the stories behind who we are. The book also includes an essay by local celebrity Michael Perry, author of Population: 485, Truck: A Love Story, and Coop.

Perry has worked with Shimon and Lindemann on several occasions. As he likes to tell it, he first met them in prison. Granted, they were working on a story for New York Times Magazine, but still. Perry was writing an article about inmates who had been living out a life sentence and what their concept of “home” was like, and Shimon and Lindemann were taking the pictures. They have worked together whenever possible since then.

Perry commented that, “What We Do Here is a continuation of what I so admire about John’s and Julie’s work. Given the world to work with, they choose their subjects from among our neighbors: farmers, dancers, 4-H kids, incarcerated punksters, independent soda-pop makers. … These are characters that simultaneously confirm and expand our impression of where we live and who we live with.”

The book is comprised of 62 encapsulations of Wisconsinites. A brief story accompanies the images of a single person, always centered and often in a uniform of sorts, against a backdrop that is their workplace. Though the title of the book and images suggest that the book artfully captures occupations, it’s quite clear that the people and their sense of place are its centerpiece.

What We Do Here takes ordinary people – Carl, the restaurant owner, and Mel, the soda pop maker – and immortalizes them. It takes every regional stereotype: a land of cow-loving, cheese-eating, beer-drinking, deer-shooting, and Favre-worshiping people, debunks those stereotypes, and with a few pictures, makes us human with stories and hopes.

    What We Do Here is available for a $25 purchase, or a FREE download, at www.lulu.com. Also check out J. Shimon & J. Lindemann, Photographers.