2021 Photolucida Critical Mass Submission


Jared Ragland

Artist statement and submision images with extended captions are below.
For additional project info and images, click here.


Author and native Alabamian Rick Bragg has called Alabama the “crossroads of history.” Indeed, the state has known a deep and complex past. From Native American genocide to slavery and secession, and from the fight for civil rights to the championing of Trumpist ideology, Alabama has stood at the nexus of American identity. In many ways, the state has also played a pivotal role in the history of photography. Photographs made in Alabama by Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, and William Christenberry, among others, have documented labor, poverty, civil rights, and rural life, and in turn formed a kind of backbone of American documentary storytelling. Now in a time of pandemic and protest, economic uncertainty, and political polarization—and within the contexts of the photographers who have come before—"What Has Been Will Be Again" has led me across more than 15,000 miles and 50 counties to survey Alabama’s cultural and physical landscape.

Social isolation is both a phrase and experience that has defined the past year, and these images expressly evoke the alienation that has characterized the moment. Yet the project features sites for which isolation and violence is nothing new—places where extracted labor and environmental exploitation have exacted heavy tolls. Such isolation is less accidental or temporal, and more a product of decades of willful neglect by a mainstream America only now starting to visualize what—and who—has been pushed out of our collective frame of vision. By tracing historic colonial routes including the Old Federal Road and Hernando de Soto’s 1540 expedition while bearing witness to ongoing racial, ecological, and economic injustice, the project illustrates the perpetuated segregation and sequestration masked by white supremacist myths of American exceptionalism and reckons a haunting yet tender look at my home state’s troublesome past and tenuous present.


Michael Farmer fashions a scarecrow next to his garden on Election Day, Spring Hill, Ala. 2020.
Michael Farmer’s family has lived in Spring Hill for generations, where the predominantly Black community has faced a history of racial violence and voter disenfranchisement. On November 3, 1874 a white mob attacked the Spring Hill polling station, destroying the ballot box, burning the ballots, and murdering the election supervisor’s son. Farmer is a lifelong Democrat and military veteran who served two tours overseas in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. When asked what he hoped might come from the 2020 election, Farmer said, “I hope the young folks might think about what their ancestors came through to get where we are.”

Perine Well at Old Cahawba, Dallas County, Ala. 2020.
The area now known as Old Cahawba was first occupied by large populations of Paleoindians; then from 1000-1500 CE the Mississippian period brought agriculture and mound builders. Spanish conquistadors were welcomed to a walled city with palisades, yet the Afro-Eurasian diseases the explorers brought with them killed thousands of indigenous people in the 16th and 17th centuries. The remaining native peoples were killed or forced to move by an even greater influx of Europeans. By the early nineteenth century, the dirt from the ancient mounds at Cahawba was used to build railroad beds, and the town briefly served as the state capital of Alabama At the time it was dug in the 1850s, the Perine Well, at seven hundred to nine hundred feet deep, was the second-largest known well in the world, feeding cool water through a system of pipes to “air condition” a twenty-six-room brick mansion. Cahawba became a ghost town shortly after the Civil War, largely due to recurring floods. By the late 1800s, the town site was purchased for $500 and its buildings demolished.

Sunshine turns soil in the Commons Community Workshop garden, Childersburg, Ala.
As a response to recent national division and the COVID-19 outbreak, Sunshine and her husband, Rusty, bought a home in Childersburg and created the Commons Community Workshop. Through their Fearless Communities Initiative, they are building a community garden in a donated downtown lot, hosting trade days, and fostering relationships with their neighbors as a means of “celebrating solidarity and strength.” The couple invited me to find them on Facebook, where Sunshine posts Initiative announcements, vocalizes her opposition to masking and vaccines, and shares her concerns about global child sex-trafficking networks, the threat of Marxism, and the coming of the end times.

Miller Steam Plant, West Jefferson, Ala. 2020.
The Miller Steam Plant is an 800-acre coal-fired electrical generation facility operated by the Alabama Power Company. In 2017 the EPA cited Miller as the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the United States. More than 29 million tons of coal ash are stored in Miller’s 321-acre unlined storage pit located behind an earthen dam along the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. In response to a 2015 EPA ruling on coal combustion residuals, Alabama Power plans to seal its ash pit using cap-in-place methods, despite the site’s location upstream from major drinking water intakes that serve 200,000 people.

Along a spur of the Old Federal Road, near Claiborne, Ala. 2021.
Located along the Alabama River in present-day Monroe County, Claiborne was a once flourishing center of political and economic life in territorial Alabama.  Serving as a base of operations in during the Creek War in the early 19th century, Claiborne was also home to Alabama’s first Eli Whitney-designed cotton gin.  Today, the Georgia-Pacific Alabama River Cellulose paper mill is located just upriver from the old town site. The mill produces specialty fluff and market pulp for consumer products that are found in more than 65% of U.S. households. While in process of switching to sustainable and renewable energy sources and investing in conservation projects, Georgia-Pacific self-reported that the Alabama River Cellulose paper mill released more than 120k pounds of reproductive toxins into the Alabama River in 2015.

Christenberry Home Place, near Stewart, Ala. 2021.

Taxidermy tableaux with Confederate battle flag, Jacksonville, Ala. 2020.

Toby, Brookside, Ala. 2020.

Antoine, Evergreen, Ala. 2021.

Wanda and Jerry unload Trump-themed fireworks, Carbon Hill, Ala. 2020.
“He’s my president–I just love him,” Wanda said as she went to kiss a box of “WE THE PEOPLE D.J. TRUMP” brand fireworks that guarantees “45 EPIC SHOTS.” Originally established as a mining and railroad community in 1863, Carbon Hill’s founders nicknamed it “The Village of Love and Luck.” However, just two weeks prior a group of 200 white coal miners on strike from the Carbon Hill Coal and Coke Co. devolved into a violent mob after hearing rumor their strike would lead to layoffs. Afraid their jobs would be given to Black citizens, the mob terrorized the town, shooting Black residents and driving them from their homes. More than a century and a half later in 2020, Carbon Hill mayor Mark Chambers aimed racist remarks at the Black Lives Matter movement in a Facebook comment that read in part, “When you put Black lives before all lives they can kiss my ass.” Three days after publishing the comment Chambers deleted his remarks and resigned. As of 2011, there were approximately 30 churches in Carbon Hill for a population of just over 2,000 residents, of which 89% are white and 25% live below the poverty line. More than 83% of local residents voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 election.