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.