What Has Been Will Be Again

Spring Hill, Barbour County, Alabama. Michael Farmer, 57, fashions a scarecrow next to his garden on Election Day, 2020.

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What Has Been Will Be Again

by Jared Ragland, Catherine Wilkins
Southern Cultures, Gothic South (Vol. 29, No. 4)

“Ragland traveled to each of his home state’s sixty-seven counties, often via routes connected to a brutal colonial legacy—following the path of Hernando de Soto’s 1540 expedition, the Trail of Tears, the Old Federal Road, and the slave ship Clotilda.”

Scholars Eric Savoy and Robert Martin describe American Gothic as a “discursive field in which a metonymic national ‘self’ is undone by the return of its repressed Otherness.” In What Has Been Will Be Again (2020–2022), photographer Jared Ragland underscores the significance not only of his art form but of place as an important contributor to this critical discourse about American national identity. Initially commissioned as a Do Good Fund artist residency, Ragland’s documentary photography project grapples with manifestations of a problematic past resurfacing in present-day Alabama. Its geographic focus and connection to a journalistic, literary, and artistic heritage identify the historical realities, culture, and climate of the South as particularly well suited to destabilize American idealism and force a reckoning with uncomfortable truths about the nation and ourselves.