Well Stories is a project about our relationship with the water we drink. This is where I post the work-in-progress for my photo project about old artesian wells in the Midwest, and the people who visit them. It is also a place for people to share information about these wells — memories and testimonies about them, as well as suggestions for those I have not visited.
The inspiration for this project came while I was working on a series of photographs about rural culture in the Midwest. As I traveled to small towns to photograph, I would occasionally hear remarkable stories about public wells from those who lived near them. Local residents would enthusiastically describe the good-tasting water they could get from a flowing pipe in the center of town or on an obscure county road. I would drive to the wells and see people (at times in queues) pull up in cars, fill containers with water, and drive off.
It was a revelation to me that anyone in the 21st-century United States would drink water that comes from a pipe in the ground and would choose to make a trip to gather water rather than turn on a tap at home. I wanted to find out more about people who get their water this way.
Artesian (or flowing) wells are fed from a confined aquifer containing groundwater that is pressurized and flows upwards, without need for a pump. These wells are filtered naturally and in some cases have been flowing for thousands of years. They often mark very early human settlements.
I am fascinated by the local culture that has grown around these wells and am photographing both the wells and the people who gather water there. Some say they make the trip simply because they like the taste of well water, while others tell me they do not have access to good water in their homes, due to where they live, or to environmental contamination.
I am also videotaping the movement and sound of the water from each well. As I have been spending time at the wells, I have realized how much the sound of the water adds to the whole experience.
If you have any stories to share, you can add them here >>
Articles about this project
Water, water everywhere, South Bend Tribune, March 2011
Water Flowing Underground, OnTheCommons.org, June 2010
The Gift of Good Water, The Art of the Rural, June 2010
Bubbling Up From the Earth, a Cool, Clear Gift, New York Times, June 2010
Free and Clear: Gathering at Artesian Wells, The Daily Yonder, May 2010
Well Stories and the Photography of Kay Westhues, The Art of the Rural, April 2010
My name is Kay Westhues, and I am a photographer and website designer who lives in South Bend, Indiana. I have alot of websites:
- kaywesthues.com – my ‘official portfolio’ site
- kwesthues.tumblr.com — photoblog for my newest project, Drop Coins Slowly
- fourteenplacestoeat.com – photoblog for my previous photo project, Fourteen Places to Eat
To arrange an exhibit of this work or to purchase prints, please contact: