In the Southern Garden is a photo-story of the past and the present that Swedish born and Texan raised photographer Kris Davidson has been working on for the last four years. It’s a journey that takes you to understand some aspects of what it means to be American. Diversity, wilderness, slavery, civil war and religion unfold in a green lush landscape in the South of the United States. Shot in a Sinar 4x5 camera the photos create a sense of stillness from the beginnings of photography. We talked to Kris about her project and where it’s heading.
I understand the Sinar 4x5 is large format photography, but what’s really the magic of shooting in this camera?
Yes, it’s only recently that I’ve been doing that and it’s such a tedious process but I really like how big you can make the prints with an extraordinary resolution. The person that you are photographing when you shoot with that camera they have to stand there and it creates this self-awareness of who you are, it introduces a slight awkwardness into the portraits. It almost creates the same feeling I imagined early on, when everybody had to sit very very still for many minutes, it creates that same kind of seriousness.
How is the project going so far?
Right now I am taking a little bit of a break and re-evaluating, doing a lot of reading, philosophical books on being American. Next, I want to go towards the East and go a little bit deeper into the organisations that are around. The whole project is about how people imagine their history and they re-create it and I am interested in the way organisations remember, recreate and keep the history alive.
Your story is deeply engaged with civil war and slavery due to the history of these areas. Is it uncomfortable sometimes to dig into the past?
It is uncomfortable if you are not sincere about it. I find that when I have conversations with people I respect wherever they are and how they imagine their history without condemning. People are really quite proud to present who they are and the identity they take onto themselves. Basically there’s two sides of the story, the African-American and the white story, when you start putting them together that’s when the discomfort comes in, but working with an individual is not really that uncomfortable. Being an immigrant myself I can kind of move in a way that is very fluid.
Why is it important to join these stories together?
There’s no such thing as THE truth there’s only multiple truths, so every single person in this world has their own truth and I am interested in the nuances of all these different truths. History is kind of reconstructed after the fact.
There are a few photos in which religion is very present in both parts of the story. What’s its relation to the past and the present?
When I started working on this I sort of made thematic elements, religion is one of them. It does come forward, the South is a religious place and that goes with the conservative element as well.
There are some photos that seem like enactments of the Civil War. Tell me a little bit about this process?
Actually, this whole project started with me being very interested in the Civil War re-enactors that you find across the South, there’s around 50,000 re-enactors which is so insane. I started wondering how are the African-Americans were re-enacting the Juneteenth and how people dressed-up as historical figures. And I wanted to integrate with that, people in modern dress or people in high society dress. By putting these together is not just a spectrum of black and white.
Why In the Southern Garden?
It’s all kind of based in this metaphor that the South is historically and it continues to be a very arable land, it’s so green, it’s so lush, things grow wildly here and that’s what led to the establishment of slavery. That’s what I keep photographing houses that are overgrown, putting people in green situations and it’s a reference to the land itself and how much it grows here. It’s also a reference to the nature of memory and how memory tends to grow wildly in the same way. Also, garden sounds kind of gentle, but not really.. there’s wildness to it.
What has your project so far taught you about America?
That there are so many answers to the question of what it means to be an American. This is something I have been meditating for many many years.. That’s this country’s weakness and strength, there so many different people and perspectives but it also makes it harder to sort of help each other and be nice to each other.
More photos of In the Southern Garden here.
Article By: Laura Rodriguez Castro