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Danny Wilcox Frazier

An award-winning alumnus and photographer captures images of life at home and around the world.

As the Mississippi churns up silt from its riverbed, photojournalist Danny Wilcox Frazier, through his images, exposes the emotions of life that swirl around him. The river has proven to be an apt metaphor for the University of Iowa alum, who grew up along its banks in LeClaire, Iowa, longing to follow the river to the nooks and crannies of the world.

Two weeks after getting married, a 25-year-old Frazier and his new bride spent a year in Nairobi, Kenya, emboldened by encouragement from buddy David Guttenfelder, another UI alum who’s now the Associated Press’s chief Asia photographer.

“My experience in Africa forced me to look outside myself—to have more of an awareness of others, of the conditions around me. I was able to look outside of myself with complete clarity, albeit with some naiveté,” says Frazier, who lives in Iowa City with wife Lydia and kids Forrest, 6, and Tatum, 3.

While in Africa, Frazier, 37, freelanced for the New York Times and the Associated Press, capturing images in Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Côte d'Ivoire.

Presently, he’s freelancing with a Time Magazine team that’s hot on the heels of this year’s U.S. presidential candidates. He has also contributed to Mother Jones, Life, Newsweek, Washington Post Magazine, Forbes, Fortune, U.S. News and World Report, Der Spiegel, and Business Week.

The work that’s closest to his heart, however, is a long-term project that documents issues plaguing America. He was awarded Duke University’s 2006 Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography for images of a disappearing rural lifestyle in Iowa, which he shot for a master’s degree project. Duke University Press published a book of the images in 2007.

Moonlit rural landscape in winter.
Snow storm, Hills, 2004. Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier.

The next personal project he’s working on was borne out of a concern about the growing disparity between social classes.

“The most important work I do is my personal work, dealing with issues that are personal to me,” he says.

Frazier returned to the UI in 2001 as a visiting professor. He also mentored Daily Iowan staffers as photo coach, a job he still performs today.

Strong man standing before a stack of logs.
Bull rider and farmhand Rusty Caudle, North Liberty, 2003. Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier.

He credits his class- and newsroom experiences for setting him down the path to teaching and graduate school; he earned a master’s in journalism in 2004. But that commitment meant that in the aftermath of 9/11 he couldn’t head for the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan. He still brought those conflicts to his students, however, by relaying reports from some of his best friends in the war zones. Stateside, he documented the impact here—a picture he took on the UI campus that tragic day became part of the National Museum of American History’s September 11: Bearing Witness to History show.

From the outside, students might only see someone who’s at the top of his game, but Frazier says he had to overcome many challenges early in his academic career.

“School was difficult for me as a young person; I’m dyslexic and had difficulties in school when I was young,” he says. “Now, I don’t just have a graduate degree, but I also teach and work with young photographers, which means a lot to me.”

Frazier, who was a UI track athlete as an undergraduate, says he only got into the University because coaches Ted Wheeler and Larry Wieczorek enrolled him in a summer preparatory program. Even then, he was put on probation his first semester. He ended his athletic career his junior year, due to injuries, and soon after found his passion for photography. He earned a bachelor’s in journalism with an art minor in 1993.

Much of Frazier’s travels now are domestic, but he still feels the wanderlust that prodded him as a young boy watching the Mississippi. When possible, Frazier says he’d like to go abroad again and take his children along, to give them life experiences he didn’t have as a kid. He’s compelled to heed those stirrings and, for now, postpone an academic career, because he isn’t ready to give up the buzz of being in the field.

“When a linebacker from Purdue knocks me against the wall
inside Kinnick Stadium, I can feel the game, not just watch it. When a mother with cancer goes home for Christmas for the last time, I feel the gravity and the weight of the emotion,” he says. “I have to be there, living the experience.”

Story by Po Li Loo; Portrait by Tim Schoon; Additional images by Danny Wilcox Frazier, used by permission

May 5, 2008



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