The New Project

For those of you not familiar with the historian part of my persona, my dissertation research (available in dissertation form through interlibrary loan as Strangers in a Strange Land: Northern Travelers and the Coming of the American Civil War) was on northern travelers who came to the antebellum South between 1815 and 1860. From more than 500 travel diaries, journals, and letter collections penned by folks who came to the South for business, tourism, and/or education, I was able to glean a prevailing northern narrative of southern difference that used sensory, temporal, and cultural tropes to contrast southerners and their region as distinct from the North and its people, sometimes in direct contradiction to the evidence of experience. This narrative of difference, I argued, was important in fueling the increasing perception among both groups that northerners and southerners could not continue to live with one another as a single national people.

As my interest in blending my fine art photography with narrative grew over the past year, I began to formulate a long-term project that would bring new life to the forgotten observations of these nineteenth-century travelers. I am intrigued by the ways in which landscapes can change drastically over long periods of time, even as the cultural markers of place remain intact or enmeshed in those landscapes. I am also curious about the ways in which the recovered impressions of the past can create startling paradoxes and powerful new insights about the present, thus amplifying the obvious contradictions between the corrosive effects of time and the continuities of space.

The images below are a few samples of my first experiments with this endeavor. I have shot with both Holga and Bronica so far, but I am more and more inclined to stick with the Holga approach for the final project.


United States Custom House (1853/1879), Charleston, SC

“This is a very comfortable place….It is evidently the centre of a country and people of its own, having their own customs, industries, and institutions, and there appears a great affinity among the people and a disposition to have everything of their own, in other words to be the focus of a whole not of a part–to be a brain not a ganglion.”

–Joseph Wharton to Anne and Hetty Wharton, February 5, 1853


The Old Citadel Green (1843-1922), Charleston, SC

Old Citadel Green (1843-1922), Charleston, SC

“The Citadel is a military school, with an extensive parade ground in its vicinity, a huge quadrangular brick building, with iron barred windows easily mistaken for a dungeon.”

Anonymous, “Journal of Travels,” November 1850


Powder Magazine (1713), Charleston, SC

Powder Magazine (1713), Charleston, SC

“Nothing but photographic pictures would give a perfect representation of the buildings or population of this city, and I have been wishing for the means of taking such pictures ever since landing on the southern side of the Potomac.”

Ledyard Lincklaen, letter-journal, February 16, 1857


~ by ericplaag on May 25, 2008.

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