Sandrine Hermand-Grisel , is the curator for this month's show.
I began documenting life on my grandparents’ cotton farm in 1978, when I was twenty-one years old. I developed close relationships with the people who worked on the farm. They welcomed me into their homes; I’d hang out with them at the juke joints where they relaxed at the end of a hard week of work. We’d share fried chicken and black-eyed peas. We’d sing “Sweet Jesus, Carry Me Home” at St. John Missionary Baptist Church.
I have lived in many places, but my idea of home remains firmly rooted in the Arkansas land and people. After forty years, I have come to realize that all the photographs I made at Rotan are explorations of home. I’ve also come to realize that the place I call home is not perfect. Rotan Switch takes its name from the community’s central landmark—the railroad switch where farmers loaded their cotton bales onto trains headed out of the Delta. Although it hasn’t been used in years, it remains a potent symbol of the complex intersections of industry and agriculture, of race and injustice.
These photographs are complicated; they exist in the context of the socioeconomic structures of the rural South. Although the subjects are family to me, as a white photographer and the granddaughter of a landowner, my photographs of the Black community implicate my own role in reinforcing these power structures. In a community in which most people spend their time working or caring for children, my ability to observe and document in itself has been a position of privilege.
The images are coupled with my own memories as well as reflections by the people in the photographs. These images are a record of my story of Rotan and the Arkansas Delta, a story that is specific to me and my family’s role in a place where inequities exist to this day. I have done my best to acknowledge this complicated history.
Lisa McCord - Rotan Switch