Raymond Thompson Jr

The trauma of white light features appropriated photographs created by the Farm Security Administration photographers in the 1930s. These images are reprinted on living tobacco leaves using the chlorophyll printing technique.

Tobacco is a plant whose taproot is buried deep in the American experience. Like other cash crops, it had a whole agricultural ecosystem devoted to its cultivation. Sharecropping was one part of the ecosystem that formed in the wake of slavery in which sharecroppers worked land they did not own and paid a share of their crop to their landlords as rent.

The violence of the transatlantic slave trade left many African-American people with truncated personal histories, myths and family memories. The images created by the FSA represent one of the few sources of visual information about life in this part of black North Carolina in the 1930s.

As African Americans our history begins with violence. We were marked as black when we were enslaved. With the same act of violence, all that came before it, our history, our culture, our families, and our memories were stripped from us. The tragedy for me is that I as a black person looking to understand parts of my own history have to do this through the mediated lens of the white gaze.

Cotton and tobacco were at the heart of my family’s mythologies that surround my grandfather. In searching for my own origin story, I wanted to find a way to move one step closer to my grandfather’s experience as a teenager and young man. I know this is a futile quest, because the holes in my family's memory and the political nature of the American archive is far too great to recover what has been lost.