Modernization of the Agrarian South: From Dorothea Lange to the 21st Century
"The King Is Dead" proclaimed the yellowed copy of The Macon News. Elvis Presley died in 1977 and the newspaper with details of his passing was placed on the glass countertop. It was among the relics of the bygone days in this country store in Musella, Georgia. But, as a documentary photographer, what caught my eye were photo-copies of historic images displayed next to the newspaper.
The photographs seemed familiar — it was a style I knew. I asked the owner about them. “Yeah, they were made by a famous photographer back in the 1930s but, you know, now, I can’t remember the name.”
“Dorothea Lange?” I asked.
“Yep, that’s it! You’re the first person to walk in here and know the photographer who made those images.”
Dorothea Lange made the photographs at this country store in the 1930s as part of her work for the Farm Security Administration. What would Ms. Lange, photographer of the famous "Migrant Mother," discover today in these same locations? How has our understanding of sense of place and history evolved ? What are the current perspectives of residents living in the same locations Lange encountered in her Georgia travels?
I am currently exploring the changes that have occurred over time in the rural Georgia areas that the legendary photographer worked in 1936 and 1937. The focus of the project is on the lives of ordinary individuals and the changes they have witnessed — how the areas that Lange photographed have been transformed by modernization. The outcomes for this project will be an exhibit, book, lecture/presentations and editorial contributions.
Since 2008, I have been traveling throughout the South to document what it means to be "rural" through the power of large-format photography and first-person narratives — capturing some of the little known and compelling stories of the South through pictures and the anecdotes of those who live “small town” and "rural" — stories that dive beneath the surface, giving the South its distinctive character.
Emphasizing the traditions of documentary photography as a way of seeing and interpreting cultural life, the imagery is accomplished through the lens of large-format, black-and-white, hand-printed silver gelatin film photography — a style and method employed by Lange. Using this unconventional photographic approach in a digital imaging age that is instantaneous, easy, inexpensive, and where technical skills and a knowledge of f-stops, exposure, shutter speeds, and the use of a darkroom have been replaced by smart phones, apps and computer screens — gives the project a distinctive visual aesthetic.
The project will interpret and enhance our understanding of Georgia agriculture, culture and history and allows for collaboration on education, outreach, history, advocacy and the arts.
- Traveling Exhibit
Sidetracked: Travels Across the Undiscovered South
Before there were food trucks, there was the rolling store. Before it was “The Real Thing,” Coca-Cola was an illegal drug, at least in some areas. Learning about the South is discovering stories about worm grunting, monkey fishing, mudfish balls, Hoover chickens and the Fall Line. This is the impetus behind "Sidetracked: Travels Across the Undiscovered South." This documentary project will produce a new body of work by traveling and looking for narratives and stories using unconventional large format film photography and storytelling skills. The project is character-driven with a distinctive visual aesthetic. This is a project with the desire to educate and capture the cultural landscape of the South's people, culture and history and to shape our understanding of what it means to live rural and small town.
- Traveling Exhibit
Everyone has a story. And, every story is important.
Community engagement / creative placemaking projects of historical and cultural importance using the power of the still photograph and first-person narratives to share stories on relevant topics of today. Society is enriched when individuals and local communities tell stories and listen to the unique stories of others. Our stories make us great as individuals. By sharing them, we become a community and, by enabling these conversations, we all benefit.
Developing projects that support local communities and engaging the public are vital for creating a sense of place. This project gives your community a face, or many faces, and may be a good fit for your development goals.
“There has been a positive buzz around town from your stories and photos. I love the warm-hearted response. You have proven that you are trusted and the people that you have interviewed were really pleased with the way it all turned out.”
Kathy Smyth, City Council, City of Luverne, Alabama
"... evocative..." Daytona Beach News Journal