the earth is red
the trees bent, weeping
what secrets will not
the ravished land
of its abuse?
– Alice Walker, from South: The Name of Home
That country was beautiful, I swear to you, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Beautiful and terrible. It is the country of my dreams and the country of my nightmares: a pure pink and blue sky, red dirt, white clay, and all that endless green – willows and dogwood and firs going on for miles.
Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is just this – if we cannot name our own we are cut off at the root, our hold on our lives as fragile as seed in wind.
– Dorothy Allison, from Two or Three Things I Know for Sure
I go back to my childhood, to a small southern town, and explore my feelings. I dig them up and roll them around in my hands for a while, to examine, judge, love, or hate. For a brief instant everything seems clear before me. Eventually, the leaves of the shutter close – my darkslide locks the moment in place and I head home. After all this time I am somehow ashamed that I can feel such rapture and pain, just from being here. I try to wash my hands of the things I have unearthed but, I can’t seem to keep them clean.
In Dahlonega, where I grew up, I have noticed that the roads are not as curvy as they used to be and the hills don’t seem to rise as high as I remember. The roads used to obey the land, curve where there was a mountain blocking the direct path and rise and fall in gently undulation with the land of the hills. Now the road rules the land. It is placed where men and progress see fit. The new roads don’t have the respect of the older road.
The places I photograph are simply where I grew up. It is the land I have shared with my family; my father, my grandfather, and his father before. It is the South and it is home. I’ve titled these memories Souvenirs from Home. Souvenir is a tangible memory of a time and something we keep with us until we are able to return to it one day. Perhaps I need these souvenirs because I fear that one day I won’t be able to find this place again and it will be impossible to return home. I take these photographs to hold on to all that I know while I have it – at least in part before me – and until I can not recognize home anymore.
It is the land I know to be true. I am surrounded by it. I walk upon it and hold it in my hand.
Angela West was born and raised in Dahlonega, Georgia. She received a BFA in photography from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia in Athens in 1995 and is currently pursuing her MFA at the School of Art at Yale University. West has photographed and exhibited extensively throughout Georgia. Venues include the Tate Gallery in Athens; and two solo exhibitions; Souvenirs from Home, in Atlanta, and Souvenirs and Ruins, shown in Dahlonega. Angela‘s photographs were also included in Gleaming Light, an international juried survey of pinhole photographs, which traveled in the U.S.A. from 1997 through 1998.