Location: Elk Grove, CA, United States
“Selma is a complicated place.” I often heard this sentiment upon interviewing the participants for We Are Selma: The Selma Portrait Project. This complexity is what intrigued me about studying, in such an intimate manner, my hometown in a way that had never been undertaken. The images look at the connection between home and identity through portraiture and storytelling. I investigated how environment, especially an often volatile and historically complicated one, helps to shape individual and cultural identity.
By using the historic wet plate collodion ambrotype process to photograph modern day Selmians, I am referencing Selma’s rich past as the Queen City of the South, a time when Selma was arguably one of the richest cities in Alabama and collodion photography was the preeminent photographic process. I am calling to mind a time when people of color often had no control over how they were portrayed visually. With these images, I am highlighting Selma’s extremely complicated past as a pivotal placeholder in the rich history of the civil rights movement and Selma’s current day quest to move forward amongst such complex burdens.
The slowness of the process and the collaborative nature of the project honors the cultural currency of an area where communication is both key to unification and fodder for misunderstanding. The extended three to six second exposures allowed something truly magical to occur on each plate as time became stacked and compressed. In those moments, as sitters embraced the unknown and allowed themselves to live within extended moments of exposure, both literally and figuratively, they allowed the process to truly capture a part of their identity, one that was perhaps even unfamiliar to them. They became their own ancestor. The reflective, almost three-dimensional quality of the glass plates allow the viewer to see themselves in each portrait, bringing to mind questions of personal responsibility, obligation and accountability.