WHERE YOU COME FROM IS GONE
Where You Come From is Gone explores the importance of place, the passage of time, and the political dimensions of remembrance through the wet-plate collodion photographic process. Created on the eve of Alabama’s bicentennial with fellow photographer Cary Norton, the large-scale images seek to make known a history that has largely been eliminated and make visible the erasure that occurred in the American South between Hernando de Soto’s first exploitation of native peoples in the 16th century and Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act 300 years later.
Using a 100-year-old field camera and a custom portable darkroom tailored to a 4x4 truck, Norton and I have journeyed more than 3,000 miles across 30+ counties in Alabama and Florida to locate and photograph indigenous sites. Yet the melancholy landscapes hold no obvious vestiges of the Native American cultures that once inhabited these places; what one might hope to document, hope to preserve, hope to remember, is already gone. Instead, the images deliberately document absence and seek to render the often invisible layers of culture and civilization, creation and erasure, and the man-made and natural character of the landscape. The result is a body of landscape photographs in which the subject matter seems to exist outside of time, despite the fact that the project is explicitly about the passage of time, the insidiousness of selective memory, and the burying of history.
Our deliberate use of the demanding, antiquated wet-plate process strategically highlights the materiality and physicality of both process and photograph, simultaneously uncovering a forgotten history and creating an archival object commemorating the sites photographed. The tintypes are digitally enlarged to 40x50 inch prints presented in hand-built frames made from locally-sourced, reclaimed Alabama Red Oak and exhibited with in-depth narrative captions.
At this current moment in American life, the act of remembering is political and can have great power, particularly when a polarizing president places a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office and whose policies endanger the environment, dispute Native American land rights, and further disenfranchise marginalized citizens. In this way, Where You Come From is Goneworks as a type of subtle activism by focusing on personal and collective memory-making. Through reasoned confrontation with our history and resistance toward (willful or accidental) cultural amnesia, these photographs provide a defense against the sort of ignorance that threatens democracy and enables fascism while cautioning us to be vigilant in guarding against altering, erasing, or “forgetting” our past.
As research and photographing continues, the SECAC Artist’s Fellowship would increase the visibility of the project during this time of national urgency while also providing support for material and travel expenses to: expand the project to include sites located in Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi; produce print portfolios to be placed in select local public archives; and facilitate conversations and collaborative opportunities with Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole representatives located in North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, and Oklahoma.
***Captions, along with supplemental project map and installation documentation, can be viewed below.
Select Solo Exhibitions:
Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, St. Petersburg College, Tarpon Springs, FL, Feb-May, 2021 (upcoming)
Mason-Scharfenstein Museum of Art, Piedmont College, Demorest, GA, Feb-March, 2020
- UCM Gallery of Art & Design, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO, 2019
- Staple Goods, New Orleans, LA, Feb-March, 2019
- Georgine Clarke Alabama Artists Gallery, Montgomery, AL, 2018
- North Floor Gallery, Lowe Mill, Huntsville, AL, 2017
“Where You Come From is Gone: Reinhabiting the Ruins of the Native South,” Below the Mason-Dixon Line: Artists and Historians Considering the South, panelist, SECAC Affiliate panel, College Art Association 2019 Annual Conference, New York, NY, February 15, 2019 (with Catherine Wilkins)
- “Where You Come From Is Gone: Examining the Political Dimensions of Remembrance Through the Wet-Plate Collodion Photographic Process,” Artist Presentation, presentation, Society of Photographic Education South Central Regional Conference, Baton Rouge, LA, October 6, 2018
Catherine Wilkins. “Jared Ragland: Photography and the Cultivation of Visual Citizenship.” Interdisciplinary Humanities, forthcoming.
Catherine Wilkins. “Where You Come From is Gone: Reinhabiting the Ruins of the Native South.” Art Inquiries, 2019, Volume 17, Number 4: 440-455.
- D. Eric Bookhardt. “Art review: ‘Where You Come From is Gone’ and ‘The Valley Below.’” Gambit Weekly. Volume 30, Number 14, April 2-8 2019.
- Where You Come From is Gone: booooooom.com.
- Indigenous People’s Day – Wiregrass Museum of Art’s #wmaINSPIRED blog: wiregrassmuseum.org.
- Finalist, Clarence John Laughlin Award, New Orleans Photo Alliance
Native American territory maps courtesy native-land.ca
Cherokee Rock Village, Cherokee County, Alabama, 2017; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
Cherokee Rock Village was home to Native Americans almost continuously from 8000 BCE until the 1830s, when the resident Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) peoples were forcibly removed by the Indian Removal Act. Located along an ancient Native American trail of religious and ceremonial importance, the site later became a starting point for the Trail of Tears.
Cahaba River, Dallas County, Alabama, 2017; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
For millennia people have been drawn to the land situated at the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers. It was first occupied by large populations of Paleoindians; then from 1000-1500 CE the Mississippian period brought agriculture and mound builders. A walled city with palisades greeted Spanish explorers before western disease killed thousands in the 16th and 17th centuries. The remaining native peoples coalesced into four tribal nations - Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek - but were wiped out and forced to move by greater influx of Europeans. By the 19th century the dirt from the ancient mounds at Cahawba was used to build railroad beds, and the town became the first, yet quickly failed, capital of Alabama. A few short years later buildings and homes were taken down brick by brick and used to build Selma, home to further injustice.
Bessemer Mounds, Jefferson County, Alabama, 2017; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
The Bessemer Mounds were first occupied during the Late Woodland Period between 800-1000 CE. While the mounds are approximately 400 years older than those found 75 miles southeast at the historically-preserved Moundville Archeological Park, historians believe there was a relationship between the mound builders. The mounds at Bessemer were leveled sometime in the 1900s; a water sewage plant and VisionLand, a defunct theme park, are now located near the site.
Ohatchee, Calhoun County, Alabama, 2017; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
Near this spot a marker stands memorializing the place where General Andrew Jackson found and adopted an orphaned Muscogee (Creek) baby in November, 1813. The story recounts how the baby was found in his dead mother’s arms and Jackson had such compassion that he took the child and raised him as his own. What the marker does not report is that it was also near this location that Jackson’s Tennessee militia began their genocide of the Red Stick Muscogee Creek Confederacy. The day before Jackson found the child, his forces trapped hundreds of Muscogee men, women and children inside their log homes and burned them alive. In his memoirs, Tennessee Volunteer Davy Crocket wrote that the few Creek who escaped were “shot down like dogs.” The ultimate defeat of the Red Sticks during the Creek Wars led to the loss of 23 million acres of ancestral land. The final treaty was dictated by Jackson, who after the conflict would be promoted to Major General before being elected the seventh president of the United States in 1829. As president, Jackson’s top legislative priority was Native relocation, and he signed the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830, sanctioning a unitary act of systemic genocide upon southern Native American tribes. Jackson’s portrait currently hangs near the Resolute Desk in Donald Trump’s Oval Office.
Garrett Cemetery, Cherokee County, Alabama, 2017; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
Outside the gates of the Garrett Cemetery is the final resting place of Pathkiller, the last full-blooded hereditary chief of the Cherokee. During the American Revolution Pathkiller allied himself with the British and fought against American troops, but by 1813 he had sided with Andrew Jackson’s militia in the Creek Wars. Just three years after Pathkiller’s death, Jackson forced the Cherokee from their ancestral homelands.
Hodby’s Bridge, Pike County, Alabama, 2019; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
As native peoples were forced from their homeland in the early 1800s, many resisted removal. As treaties guaranteeing native land rights went unenforced and settlers moved into Muscogee (Creek) territory, many fought back against the violent appropriation of their land. Others chose to move south instead of west and traveled to Florida, following a route along the Pea River. In March of 1836, Alabama Militia forces led by U.S. General William Wellborn tracked 400 Muscogee to their camp near Hodby’s Bridge and attacked. It is said that much of the fighting occurred in waist-high water and deep mud, with women and children taking up arms alongside Muscogee warriors who used bullets made from melted pewter plates. At least 50 Muscogee men were killed, with an unknown number captured. According to some reports, some of the captured were enslaved by local planters.
Chocochatti, Hernando County, Florida, 2020; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
Throughout the 18th century, Native American refugees fleeing northern wars and encroachment of white colonists migrated to Spanish Florida. Yamasee, Muscogee (Creek), Choctaw, and Chickasaw from the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi joined with the descendants of historic Florida tribes and runaway slaves. Together they formed the yat’siminoli (a derivation of the Spanish “cimarron,” which translates most closely to “runaway” though the tribes designated as “free”). The first colony of Muscogee from Alabama was established in present-day Hernando County in 1767. Initially called “New Yufala” by white explorers, the very first village of the Seminole nation later became known as Tcuko tcati (Chocochatti), meaning “Red House” or “Red Town.” With its fertile farmland and abundance of game, Chocochatti was home to prosperous commercial deer hunters, traders, farmers, and cattlemen for nearly 70 years. But as General Andrew Jackson completed his Creek War campaign in the Alabama Territory, he advanced southward across Florida’s international boundaries and began the first in a series of Seminole Wars. Several skirmishes between the Seminoles and American troops were fought near Chocochatti during the later phases of the Second Seminole War, and in June 1840, US infantry destroyed Chocochatti’s flourishing agricultural fields and burned the village. By 1843, after fighting in open-field, nonconventional guerrilla warfare and committing almost 40 million dollars to the forced removal of the Seminoles, US troops withdrew as nearly 4,000 Seminoles were forced to move west onto reservations. However, the Seminoles who wished to remain in Florida were allowed to do so, but were pushed further south into the Everglades.
Weedon Island Mangroves, Pinellas County, Florida, 2020; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
Weedon Island was once home to the late Weeden Island Culture [alternative spelling] of Florida Gulf Coast dwellers, and where archeologists recently discovered a Weeden pine canoe, measuring nearly 40 feet in length, but believed to have been upwards of 45 feet in total - the longest prehistoric canoe ever found in Florida. Lasting some 800 years, the Weeden Island Culture evolved out of a segment of the Manasota Culture, an ancient population that settled along Florida’s rich estuaries and central Gulf Coast 2,500 years ago.
Egmont Key, Florida, 2020; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
The US government began forcibly removing Native Americans from Florida in 1817. As Eastern Woodland peoples throughout the southeast were forced to leave their homelands and walk to Oklahoma, the Seminoles – an already displaced people – were removed by steamship in an over-water branch of the Trail of Tears. One such vessel, the Grey Cloud, made more than two dozen voyages during the Second and Third Seminole Wars from a stockade on Egmont Key, a small spit of an island located in the mouth of Tampa Bay. At one time, the stockade held as many as 300 Seminoles, including Holata Micco (Billy Bowlegs), the last Seminole chief in South Florida; Emateloye (Polly Parker), who escaped the Grey Cloud while docked near Tallahassee and walked 400 miles southward to rejoin her people at Lake Okeechobee, where she lived until her death in 1921; and Seminole leader Thlocklo Tustenuggee (Tiger Tail), who committed suicide by swallowing crushed glass rather than remain in captivity. It is also said ten Seminole warriors detained at Egmont marched silently into the Gulf instead of suffering relocation. Many other Seminoles died while interned on the island, but names and burial locations were not accurately recorded by the federal government. Over the last century, Egmont Key has lost more than half its land mass – and with it its important history – as the seas surrounding the island have risen at least 8 inches. State officials predict another 9- to 24-inch rise by 2060, while wakes churned by fuel tankers, container ships, and cruise liners in Tampa Bay increasingly erode the island’s dunes.
Tierra Verde, Pinellas County, Florida, 2020; archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype; 40x50 inches
Near this site, south of present-day St. Petersburg, a Tocobaga charnel house and burial mound were once situated on a series of 15 islands. Scholars believe the dead would be laid in the charnel house and a shaman/priest – with help from scavenging birds – would remove the flesh from the skeleton in preparation for burial. Once stripped or picked cleaned, the bones and the eternal spirit they held were placed in the mound. The Tocobaga disappeared from the historical record by the early 1700s, as disease brought by European explorers decimated the Safety Harbor culture, leaving the Tampa Bay area virtually uninhabited for more than a century. The landscape of Tierra Verde was completely transformed in the late 1950s when the burial grounds were razed and used as fill dirt for a residential development and golf course.
Where You Come From is Gone, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO, 2019
Where You Come From is Gone, North Floor Gallery, Lowe Mill, Huntsville, AL, 2017