Gordon Parks made a series of photographs for the Farm Security Administration in 1942. Parks intended to document the impact of racial bigotry on Black communities in Washington D.C., and found a resilient subject in Ella Watson, a Black woman who cleaned federal offices. This moment produced the iconic "American Gothic" portrait Parks made of Watson in the building that evening. But Watson also brought Parks to other critical spaces in her life, including her home altar and her worship community at the St. Martin's Spiritual Center. This essay meditates on the images of Watson's religious life. Walking with Watson into the sanctuary and documenting spiritualists' dynamic forms of worship helped Parks to focus his lens on the fullness of Black living beyond the burdens of systemic racism. The photographs help us to visualize how sacred liberatory spirit emerges in solitude and in collectivity, moving both within and beyond the walls of the sanctuary.
A review of “Picturing the South: 25 Years” from the High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia.
Photographs by Richard Knox Robinson.
John Lusk Hathaway's photographic project One Foot in Eden takes as its subject the Cherokee National Forest and its visitors, who use this place extensively for day tripping and recreation. Largely a rural, undeveloped place, the waterways that appear time and again in Hathaway's explorations are part of a system of reservoirs built by the Tennessee Valley Authority for flood control and hydroelectricity generation a century ago. Built and unbuilt environments in One Foot in Eden speak to bigger questions about our existence as organic beings in a world increasingly given over to the high-modern ideology that drives mammoth undertakings like the TVA. Hathaway's images are suggestive of a deep-seated human need to connect with the world around us, evoking ideas like E. O. Wilson's biophilia.
Giving fresh attention to Carrie Mae Weems's photography, this photo essay focuses on the artist's critical engagement with architecture through a series of black and white images in the "Louisiana Project." We argue that by contrasting the built environment of Greek Revival houses with industrial and impoverished neighborhood spaces in and around New Orleans, Weems leverages a subtle and searing critique of entrenched systems of racism and racial oppression. The photographs, centered on a mysterious witness figure dressed in period clothing and portrayed by Weems herself, point out long-lasting effects of racial hierarchy expressed in architectural and preservationist practices. Weems's critical subjectivity evokes the colonized body trapped in a mythos that created and still, in the twenty-first century, sustains systemic racism in economic and social modalities, particularly in the southeastern United States. Our article interprets Weems's photography, here, as an indictment of and a protest against continuing patterns of racism.
This photo essay presents the moments and changes that the artist and her family have experienced during the modification of their very first home in the United States. It is based on the artist's exploration of cultural identity and understanding of what home means to a person. Having arrived to the United States as a child and adjusted to a new culture and community, the artist reflects on her immigrant parents finally being on the path to achieving the American Dream, the contrast of living in two different cultures, and discovering her identity and place.
Front Porch essay for the Built/Unbuilt issue.