I moved to Columbia from a small town mere minutes from San Francisco.
I am a military brat whose family tree is deeply rooted in rural Southern soil.
My father grew up in a house at the end of a dirt road where our people lived for so long the street took our family name. A city sign today legitimizes the spot where a handcrafted, wooden sign displayed our surname my whole childhood.
When I was growing up, my step-sister and I would visit from the west coast during summers. The humidity wrapped around me like a familiar sweater, getting tighter with each step toward the airplane door. A strangling ‘hello’, welcome back to South Carolina. We would disembark in Columbia. She would head off to Sumter to stay with her maternal grandparents. We would meet in the parking lot of a Shoney’s or Red Lobster to say goodbye or reunite.
I would stay with my birth mother. She let me wear make-up and watch rated-R movies, things I couldn’t do at home. I dined on pizzas made from english muffins, Ragu, and slices of American cheese.
My mom wouldn’t leave the house without heels. Her bathroom smelled like aerosol hairspray and Halston. Her record collection was (and still is) impressive. From her wicker archives, I got acquainted with Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Loverboy. I spent an entire July memorizing and belting the lyrics to “Oh, Sherry.” It was more glamorous than a bag of Beyonces.
On one visit, she gave me my first camera.
It looked a lot like this
My mother worked (and still does) for the cable company. While she worked, I filled my summer days with endless hours of Disney Channel on TV and, when I was older, “The Gong Show.” Otherwise, I entertained myself shooting pool, visiting cousins and listening to my dad’s brothers play banjo and sing, “Mountain Dew.”
Every summer I spent a weekend with my grandmother…on my father’s side. She would warm up a can of corned beef hash-because I always requested it-which I would eat with slices of white bread. I drank from a plastic pitcher stained ombre from years and years as a vessel for her homemade sweet tea. In the afternoons, I played with her braille books and her reed organ.
She had little use for TV because she was blind. She had a tiny old TV set that received a few local channels. The reception was poor. We would torture the antenna on the little black box until something came in clear enough. I would watch Days of our Lives and describe for her what I saw because she used to watch it, too.
Blackberries grew wild in her backyard. I would eat them without rinsing them off.
In California, we were a family of four. In Swansea, there was a tribe, a history, a story.
The more time I have lived here in the South, the closer I feel to that story even though I know I will always be a little outside of it.
I allowed myself the opportunity to get a little closer to this story when I took some classes from a wonderful photographer this fall semester, Eliot Dudik. Most influential was his course on southern photography. I am as Southern as I am not; A duality that has always sort of haunted me.
With his encouragement, I went to Swansea, South Carolina with my camera. I don’t know yet what I am looking for there. I think when I find it, it’s going to be awesome.
It has been a while since my first trip. Here are the results.
(I think that toy camera is going into the slideshow. This is a wordpress quirk that I haven’t figured out a way around.)
I learned a couple things. Foremost, dress appropriately. It is easier to meet people that way. Never, ever wear flip flops out into a horse pasture. Just don’t wear them on location at all unless you are going to be shooting on the beach and, even then, I recommend keeping a more athletic pair of shoes with your gear.