In 1979, I was twenty-one years old when I began documenting life on my grandparents’ cotton farm in Rotan, Arkansas. Rotan Switch takes its name from the community’s central landmark – a landmark that remains a potent symbol of the complex intersections of industry and agriculture, of race and injustice. In the past, the railroad switch was where farmers loaded their cotton bales onto trains headed out of the Arkansas Delta. This series acknowledges the history of my rural home, one that we must shed light on to move into a more just future.
I realize that these photographs are complicated when seen in the context of the social and economic structures of the rural South.
Although these subjects are family to me, as a white photographer and the granddaughter of a well-known farm owner, my photographs of the Black community implicate my own role in reinforcing these power structures. These systemic oppressions are deeply troubling.
I developed close relationships with the people who worked on the farm. They welcomed me into their homes, and I hung out at the juke joints and honky-tonks where they would go to relax after a hard week of work. We shared fried chicken and black-eyed peas. We sang “Sweet Jesus Carry Me Home” at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church.
After forty years, I have come to realize that the photographs I took in Rotan are explorations of home. My hope is to celebrate and honor this community I love and grew up with in the Mississippi Delta. For me, these images are tender reminders of people and places I love.