in progress


Collaboration with Cary Norton
(select works)


Where You Come From is Gone explores the importance of place, the passage of time, and the political dimensions of remembrance through the historical wet-plate collodion photographic process. Created on the eve of Alabama’s bicentennial, Ragland and Norton’s 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 DeSoto’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 Ragland’s 4x4 truck, the two photographers journeyed more than 3,000 miles across 30 Alabama counties to locate, visit, and photograph indigenous sites. Yet the melancholy landscapes hold no obvious vestiges of the Native American cultures that once inhabited the sites; what one would hope to document, hope to preserve, hope to remember, is already gone. Instead, Ragland and Norton 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 slippage of memory, and the burying of history. While the relative emptiness of the landscapes elicits a sense of loss or absence, the beauty of the photographs conveys a continued sacrality of the space and puts viewers in touch with history and memory, helping us not only to imagine what may have been but also how best to honor what is, and what has been lost.

The artists’ 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 to impress upon viewers the magnitude of the landscape and all that transpired there.

Victims of violence, warfare, and cultural displacement, the Eastern Woodland tribes were forced to uninhabit the sites that Ragland and Norton photograph. Conversely, these images seek to encourage viewers to responsibly reinhabit the space rather than continuing on as uninformed, uninvolved residents. At this current moment in American life, the act of remembering is political and can have 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 Gone works 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 totalitarianism and cautions us to be vigilant in guarding against altering, erasing, or “forgetting” our past.

– Catherine Wilkins, Ph.D., University of South Florida, 2017


Where You Come From is Gone press:
Saint Lucy
Strant Magazine


Bessemer Mounds, Jefferson County, Alabama, 2017

Garrett Cemetery, Cherokee County, Alabama, 2017
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.

Old Cahawba, Dallas County, Alabama, 2017
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 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.

Hollowed cedar tree near the entrance of Manitou Cave at Willstown, a Chickamauga settlement of the Cherokee nation, DeKalb County, Alabama, 2017
Many Native American tribes attribute special spiritual significance to cedar tree, calling it the “Tree of Life” or “Holy Tree.” In particular, the Cherokee, who inhabited Manitou (an Ojibwa word meaning, “spirit") and the surrounding area, believe that cedar trees hold the spirits of deceased ancestors and therefore possess the power of protection. Inside Manitou traces of human activity date back 10,000 years, including inscriptions from the Cherokee syllabary, invented by Sequoyah while he lived in Willstown. After the Cherokee removal on the Trail of Tears the cave was used as a Confederate encampment and saltpeter mine; in the 1920s it was converted into a tourist destination where flappers danced the Charleston in a "ballroom" that featured electric lights; and during the Cold War it was outfitted as a fallout shelter. After decades of neglect the cave is the focus of grassroots historical and environmental protection and in 2016 was listed by the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the state's "places of peril." 

Ohatchee, Calhoun County, Alabama, 2017
Near this spot a marker stands memorializing the place where General Andrew Jackson found and adopted an orphaned Muskogee Creek baby in Nov. 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 Muskogee Creek Red Sticks. The day before Jackson found the child, his forces trapped hundreds Creeks - 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."

Bessemer Mounds, Jefferson County, Alabama, 2017
The Bessemer Mounds were first occupied during the Late Woodland Period between 800-1000AD. 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 1900's; a water sewage plant and VisionLand, a defunct theme park, are now located on the site.

Cahaba River, Dallas County, Alabama, 2017

Coosa River, Cherokee County, Alabama, 2017
Near this point in the Coosa River, Pathkiller, the last full-blooded hereditary chief of the Cherokee, operated a ferry during the 19th century. After Pathkiller became too old to operate the ferry he spent his final days on the banks of the river, watching the water and river boats pass by. He was buried on the bluffs overlooking the Coosa, his body laid to rest facing the river.

Near DeSoto Falls, DeKalb County, Alabama, 2017
In June 1540, a small scouting group from DeSoto's army of conquistadors made their way up Lookout Mountain to what is today known as DeSoto Falls, where they camped for at least two days searched the area for gold and precious stones.

Site of Turkeytown, Cherokee County, Alabama, 2017
Established some time prior to 1770, Turkeytown was one of the most important Cherokee cities in the region. Following his victory over the Muscogee Creek, General Andrew Jackson visited his Cherokee allies at Turkeytown in 1816 for a Council of the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw to negotiate boundaries and ratify a peace treaty as Alabama opened to white settlers. At the council the Cherokee ceded a large portion of their ancestral lands in north-central Alabama to the US government and agreed to the building of roads throughout their domain, including construction of the Alabama Road over the ancient hunting and trading paths that once ran east to Rome, Georgia. Soon after the treaty the Eastern Woodland native Americans were forced west on the Trail of Tears.

Ten Islands, St. Claire County, Alabama, 2017
In July of 1540 DeSoto and his men forded the Coosa River near this point, moving from the Native American city of Coste to nearby Tali. In tow were native slaves, forced to accompany the Spaniards and carry their supplies. Some 250 years after DeSoto's visit, the site became home to General Andrew Jackson's Fort Strother, from which he began his campaign against Red Stick Muskogee Creeks during the Creek wars in 1812. In this photograph, divergent paths lead to ruins of a river lock, which when constructed in the 1880's opened an additional 25 miles of the Coosa to commercial shipping. Today the river and nearby land is controlled by the Alabama Power Co. Area locals report that buckets full of points and stone tools can be drudged from the river when the water is low.

Unnamed island on the Coosa River, Cherokee County, Alabama, 2017
Near this site stood the great Native American city of Chiaha, where in 1540 DeSoto stood on the banks of the river and marveled at "the beauty and richness of the land" and was warmly welcomed by a soon to be occupied and enslaved people.

Near the battlefield site of Econochaca (Holy Ground), Lowndes County, Alabama, 2018
In 1813 Red Stick Creeks fought US Army Rangers and militia men at Econochaca. Creek prophets performed ceremonies at the site to create a spiritual barrier of protection, but the natives lost the battle. Their leader, William Weatherford - known as Red Eagle - barely escaped capture, jumping from a bluff into the Alabama River while on horseback. Weatherford would later go on to lead the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend against Major General Andrew Jackson, where the US Army won a decisive victory over the Creek.

Omussee Creek Mound, Henry County, Alabama, 2019
The Omussee Creek Mound was built by the Chacato people, ancestors of the Creek Nation, who held a tenuous relationship with Spanish missionaries but were ultimately forced from their customs and lands by European colonists. Occupied from approximately 1300 to 1550 A.D., the mound is the southernmost platform mound along the Chattahoochee River and was part one of the densest concentrations of mound centers in North America. Osmussee served as a key population and cultural center during the Mississippian era, but by around 1550 the native population in the area was in decline. Many believe this may have been part of a broader, regional depopulation due in large part to the spread of diseases brought by European explorers. Today the mound is difficult to distinguish from the short knolls and hillocks along the banks of the Chattahoochee, and it is covered in trees and dense foliage – much of which had been felled and further tangled during the devastating category five storm, Hurricane Michael, in 2018.

Moundville, Hale County, Alabama, 2017
Between the 11th and 15th centuries, Moundville was the political and ceremonial center of a Mississippian chiefdom on the Black Warrior River in west Alabama. More than 10,000 people lived at and around the massive 300 acre site, which featured more than 30 earth mounds used for civic and religious purposes, with the layout of the mounds likely placed in cosmological symbolic order and regarded by Mississippian peoples as the doorway to the afterlife. While the site stood as the second largest city in North America for generations, it was mysteriously abandoned by the time Europeans began exploring the area in the 16th century.

Hodby’s Bridge, Pike County, Alabama, 2019
As native peoples were forced from their homeland in the early 1800’s, many resisted removal. As treaties guaranteeing native land rights went unenforced and settlers moved into Creek territory, many Creeks 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 Creeks 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 Creek women and children taking up arms alongside Creek warriors who used bullets made from melted pewter plates. At least 50 Creek men were killed, with an unknown number captured. According to some reports, some of the captured Creeks were enslaved by local planters.

Cherokee Rock Village, Cherokee County, Alabama, 2017
Cherokee Rock Village was home to Native Americans almost continuously from 8000 BC until 1838, when the resident Cherokee and Creek Indians were forcibly removed by the Indian Removal Act. The ancient site was believed to be of religious and ceremonial importance, as it was located along an ancient Native American trail that became a starting point for the Trail of Tears and later a route for white settlers. The trail also was used by both northern and southern troops during the Civil War and is now known as Lookout Mountain Trail.

Tohopeka, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, Tallapoosa County, Alabama, 2017
At this site of the Red Stick village of Tohopeka, Cherokee and Lower Creek allied with Andrew Jackson swam across the Tallapoosa River, stole Red Stick canoes, and ferried their own warriors to attack and burn the village during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The flanking maneuver allowed Jackson to ultimately defeat the Upper Creek, leaving nearly 800 Red Sticks dead and more than 300 women and children captured. Those who fought reported that the Tallapoosa ran red with blood; the battle was the single largest defeat of Native American people in nearly 300 years of conflict with European settlers. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend effectively ended the Creek War and led to the loss of 23 million acres of ancestral Muscogee land. The treaty was dictated by Jackson, who after the Creek War would be promoted to Major General and later become president. His portrait currently hangs over the Resolute Desk in Donald Trump's Oval Office.



Where You Come From is Gone, University of Central Missouri, Oct. 1–Nov. 2, 2019