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.
As kids, my step-sister, Jen, and I visited from the west coast during summers. The humidity would wrap 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. Jen 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.
My mother would claim me for four weeks. Under her supervision, I could wear make-up and watch rated-R movies. 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. I listened to records from her wicker archives for hours; Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Europe.
On one visit, she gave me my first camera.
It looked a lot like this
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 maternal grandmother, Viola. She would warm up a can of corned beef hash because I always requested it on my visits. I would combine the salty hash with slices of white bread and drink 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.
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 an outsider.
I allowed myself the opportunity to explore this relationship when I took some classes this fall semester with Eliot Dudik. His course on southern photography was most influential. 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.
Here are some of the images.
(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.