From August 01, 2023 to August 31, 2023
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 is a fine art and documentary photographer from the Arkansas Delta, who lives and works in Los Angeles and Arkansas. Focusing on her experiences on her family’s cotton farm, her creative practice explores concepts of storytelling, memory, and the passage of time.
McCord received her BFA from San Francisco Art Institute and earned an MFA from California Institute of the Arts. She also attended New York University, Le Contrejour, Paris, and The Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY. She taught photography at several high schools and universities in the LA area including Pepperdine University.
She has exhibited her work in galleries and museums internationally, including SoHo Photo Gallery and Carrie Able Gallery in New York; Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins; Bruce Lurie Gallery, Building Bridges Art Exchange, Classic Photographs Los Angeles, and the Annenberg Space for Photography Museum in Los Angeles; FotoFever in Paris, the Museum of Nature of Cantabria in Spain, MIA Photo Fair in Milan. McCord’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Fabrik Projects, Gallery 825, the Memphis Cotton Museum, Slow Exposures, and Leica Gallery LA in 2023.
Her work has been featured in numerous publications including Black & White Photography (UK edition), Float Magazine, and Feature Shoot. She was a Critical Mass Finalist in 2015, 2016, and 2021. McCord’s work is in the permanent collections of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
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