top of page

The Color of Southern Nostalgia

Advanced Approaches in Photography, Hasselblad 500c film camera with color film

Project Statement

Lexington, VA, embodies so many aspects of the American south that I grew up with in Alabama. It’s a reason I have felt so at home in this vibrant place. Coming here, I was able to recall childhood memories of farmers markets in the summer, driving through beautiful endless farmland, and eating homemade cooking exclusively—all memories that didn’t happen in Lexington but ones that may as well have. There is a stigma against the south that often outshines its many aspects that are inherently good. For this project, I have explored those aspects of southern culture that make it so wonderful and have brought me to admire it. 

In the early stages of this project, I made a very long list that I continue to add to today. The title of the list is “Things of the Good South,” and it is full of things that I identify with the south that make me happy. Some items on the list were larger themes like “hospitality” while others were more specific like “okra” and “sundresses.” This list was the basis for my inspiration of deciding what and where to shoot for this project. I also took inspiration from photographers like Meg Griffiths and Susan Worsham for their depictions of places and memory in the south. Cig Harvey and William Eggleston also served as inspiration for their exploration of how people interact with the places that they’re in. I decided to use a Hasselblad film camera to capture images for this project because it seemed appropriate to use older equipment for a project that is intended to evoke nostalgia. It was important to work in color because the south is a colorful place with colorful people, and I wanted my final images to exude joy and the other feelings that these colors evoke.

When shooting for this project, I visited locations around Lexington and Rockbridge County. It wasn’t very difficult to find subject matter to shoot because Lexington condenses aspects of so many places around Alabama into one small region. I went to the farmer’s market, multiple farms, on hikes, drives through Rockbridge Baths, popular sunset spots—I wanted to explore the full breadth of what this place has to offer because it has offered so much to me. Even while having to quarantine myself due to COVID-19, I still found inspiration in the beautiful house I was moved to, which was full of interesting light and had gardens that eight-year-old me would be more than eager to play in. I found myself working like Eggleston when I would shoot, often taking just one photo of a subject at a time. I found that my images—especially those including people—were much more natural and seemed more like real memories in this way. 

I’ve discovered from this project that in spite of my inner conflict with certain ways the south portrays itself, I choose to view it through a lens of potential and beauty. My final images are for the most part in chronological order of the time they were shot. Viewers will notice that they transform from more realistic images to something that is quite fantasy-like. This doesn’t mean that these later moments were any less real or were staged. They just have a change in tone about what is the true optimistic essence of the American south. They most reflect the feeling that I get when I reread the list I made at the very beginning. I hope that even viewers from outside of the south will feel the same warmth and comfort I get from these photos.  This is a project that I think will always have some influence on my work. Very rarely do people forget the place they grew up in.

bottom of page