Not exactly a quick project5/1/2019
Dave Baker is working on the first of five photography books highlighting Iowa.
There is nothing to do in Iowa. You have likely heard it before. But Dave Baker wouldn’t accept it.
“In 2009, I was having a discussion with a college friend who was complaining that there was nothing to do in Iowa,” Baker says. “During that conversation, I realized that people might not realize all there is to see and do around the state. I decided to make it my goal to design a photography book that would highlight something of interest in each of the 947 communities.”
That was a decade ago. Baker says two of the aforementioned communities have since unincorporated, thus the state now has 945.
“I’ve finished about 50 percent of them,” he says.
Armed with his camera, Baker started photographing Marion County. He quickly learned that it is difficult to sum up an entire town in just one shot. In addition, he learned that Iowa has far more communities that are unincorporated.
“In Polk County alone, we have far more than the 21 official communities,” he says.
Baker decided to begin capturing images of the unincorporated areas and ghost towns, too. Enterprise, Oralabor, Farrar, Santiago, Rising Sun, Adelphi, Levey, White Oak, Carney, Ridgedale, McDivitt’s Grove and Commerce — just to name a few.
“My reason for adding these places is that they are important to the overall narrative of our local heritage and are often overlooked,” he says.
But that isn’t the only reason. Baker enjoys learning about Iowa and sharing his work. This year he is working on the first of what could become five photography books highlighting Iowa.
“The one that I am presently working on will encompass the central region of the state, and it hopefully will be ready in 2020,” he says.
In the meantime, the project has grown in other ways. Beginning in 2015, Baker began a Facebook page for his work, and he is currently developing a website of historic information that can be used for genealogical purposes as well as general information.
“Of the 99 counties, I have photographed 35 in entirety — including the ghost towns. And of the remaining, 51 counties are partially completed,” he says. “Since this is something that I do on weekends, it is not exactly a quick project.”
During the past two years, Baker has begun offering his speaking services to libraries and civic organizations regarding the history of Iowa and the various county histories.
“Last year I held events in Pella, Webster City, Gowrie, Fort Dodge, Slater and Ottumwa,” he says.
“This year I have planned programs for Laurens, Pocahontas, Victor, Sigourney, Newton and Harlan. Plus new (speaking) events in Pella and Webster City.
“My intention is to get people excited about Iowa and living here,” he says. “I also want to encourage historic preservation and support small-town businesses. It is my hope that people will read my postings, see my pictures, and get excited about the things that there are to do and see.”
For more information, Baker invites all who are interested to visit his Facebook page “the29th state.” ♦