Celebrated photographer Nancy Rexroth used her upbringing in the American Midwest and a novelty plastic camera to create a groundbreaking photography collection in the late 1970s. Now, through the vision and voice of Cincinnati-based filmmaker Ann Segal, audiences across the country can have their own glimpse into Ms. Rexroth’s IOWA.

On Thursday, April 8, a virtual screening of the film “Light on IOWA” will take place in conjunction with the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM), a project partner. The biographical documentary, produced by Segal and videographer Scott Ginn, is an intimate conversation with Rexroth about how spending those summers in the Midwest informed her artistic vision for IOWA (published in 1977) – the first printed monograph of work completed with a plastic camera.

Rexroth’s best-known body of work, IOWA is considered groundbreaking for the emotional depth and dreamlike sense of motion achieved using unconventional photographic tools and techniques. IOWA was photographed using a Diana camera – an inexpensive, plastic-bodied film camera originally marketed as a novelty in the 1960s.

“Before I knew Nancy, I was inspired by her work that I’d seen only online. Her work is mysterious, ephemeral, and poetic. It tells a story that is totally open to interpretation,” said Segal, a photographer in her own right.

In 2019 the Cincinnati Art Museum began its acquisition of The Nancy Rexroth Collection, which was to include a complete set of Diana camera pictures from both the 1977 and 2017 editions of IOWA as well as an assortment of previously unpublished images from the IOWA project. When Segal heard the news, she immediately felt compelled to tell the story of Rexroth and her Diana camera.

“When Nathaniel Stein (photography curator at CAM) announced at a Cincinnati Art Museum Friends of Photography event that the museum was purchasing much of her work, I asked him if anyone was planning to make a film about her,” recalled Segal. “I contacted [Nancy] the very next day. Nancy and I met for lunch and began to get to know one another.”

“Light on IOWA” is the 10th film in the series Conversations with Photographers, produced by Segal, with support from FotoFocus since 2014. Other featured photographers include Helen Adams, Gordon Baer, Jymi Bolden, Melvin Grier, Robert Flischel, and others. Rexroth reviewed several of those films before agreeing to take part in the project.

“Nancy reviewed my other films and felt like it would be a great fit. She ended up being very involved in the process, beyond being the subject. She had a lot of meaningful input to share with me and with Scott Ginn (the film’s editor).

Segal and Ginn have worked together since 2012.

“Scott and I have an interesting process exchanging editing numbers and notes back and forth for months. I began making films about other artists (not primarily photographers) when I lived in Marin County, California with a very primitive video camera (before they were mass produced), edited them myself and showed them on Marin Viacom.”

As curator of the Rexroth collection, Stein will preface the screening of “Light on IOWA” with brief remarks on Rexroth and her work, commented that Rexroth “occupies a unique place in the history of photography, especially in the context of the 1970s, an important moment in which experiment and broad thinking vied against established photographic traditions many people associate with figures like Ansel Adams.”

“Working in the small Appalachian towns of Southeast Ohio, Rexroth used unconventional tools to create a world of feeling and light unlike anything that came before or after,” he added.

The Rexroth collection at the CAM also includes other works by Rexroth and will serve as an archive that encompasses her entire creative life as well as her papers. Stein said it is unique to be able to represent a photographer’s work in the “deep, comprehensive way” the Nancy Rexroth Collection allows.

“The Cincinnati Art Museum is honored to be building the Nancy Rexroth Collection,” Stein said. “This collection makes the Cincinnati Art Museum the unparalleled center of research on Rexroth’s work going forward, and in addition to contributions we make to the history of art through our stewardship, scholarship, and exhibition of her work, I’m delighted that collection is already inspiring new creativity in the community.”

“Ann’s film (“Light on IOWA”) is first, but I trust not last,” Stein added.

The virtual screening of “Light on IOWA” begins at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 8. The event is free, but an RSVP is required.