Sunday, May 31, 2009

Witnessing: Southern Stories

Charles, 2005

In 2003 I started working on what I thought was going to be a coffee table book of pictures of a small town in North Carolina. Many of the places I photographed for this project had classic Southern gothic family histories, some of which would seem unreal to people born outside the South, but which were perfectly recognizable and understandable to those of us born in the South. Remember how outrageous and unreal the characters in Crimes of the Heart and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil seem? Well, if you grew up in the South you probably knew people like this and had family members every bit of colorful. 

That project never made it very far for lack of publisher interest. Nor did another one, in which I was going to ride around the South photographing and telling the stories of old residences and commercial buildings that were falling down, but which had once been the hopes and dreams of the people who had built them. But these two projects spawned a bigger idea which I called Witnessing: Southern Stories. The premise was this: I would make pictures of old places that looked liked like they would have interesting stories and then write stories to go along with them. 

I'd learned earlier in the small town project that too many of the people whose stories I wanted to tell were still alive. It would have been unkind to them or subjected their families to undue attention or ridicule to tell their stories while they were still around. Hence, my decision to switch to a more fictionalized style of story telling.  The fundamentals of all of the Southern Stories are based on true stories I have heard about real people, most of whom I've met. But specific details and places have been altered to protect the innocent and guilty.

I've developed about forty of these stories. Some of them can he seen here


  1. I had read a number of these as you posted them on flickr, and they're wonderful. Shades of Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor, two of my favorite southern writers. Made me think of the first time I heard Welty read aloud, (we're talking on a record, revolving on a turntable) "Why I Live at the PO."