"How Life Is"
Clinton, Louisiana, USA and its neighboring towns are home to dozens of young people making rap music in order to express their reality in today’s rural South. The vicious cycle of rural poverty, the police shootings that have killed family members, the joy and faith that nevertheless persist inside them – these are the real subjects driving their deeply autobiographical music.
The last few months have seen a lot of conversation about how America can understand systemic racism and its broken justice system. Understandably, many have pointed to resources coming from intellectual circles, but with my photos, I want to make an argument for the immense value of the folk art being made by young Black people in a town like Clinton, who – living in the rural South especially – bear an extremely heavy burden in terms of historical racism and oppression. (As an aside, in 2020, Clinton voted to keep its Confederate statue outside the courthouse; every Black member of the police jury voted to remove it, every white member voted to keep it. In the antebellum period, the area around Clinton had one of the highest concentration of slaves in the South.)
Excluded by dominant social institutions for generations, young Black Southerners have forged their own avenues for expression, and yet I feel like their voices are still ignored by the quote-unquote cultural mainstream when, in fact, they have much to teach us. The rap being made by young people in Southeast Louisiana – and daily life there – is challenging but raw and vital, of absolute relevance to our current reckoning. Listening to their music means hearing the voices of young Black Southerners on their own terms. This is a critical step towards the dismantling of a racist and elitist cultural hierarchy.
I want to show what life is like for these young artists in Clinton and other small towns like Ethel, Jackson, Baker, etc. – how their lives connect to their art and speak to these broader social issues in a time of necessary turmoil and soul-searching. For this award, note that I’m submitting a sampling of my work from across the region of Southeast Louisiana; if my application is successful, I plan to focus on Clinton and the countryside in particular, with some additional work in near-by Baton Rouge.
I’ve been coming to the Clinton area for about four years now – I found my way there through friends in the Baton Rouge rap scene. It feels like home (I live in Clinton whenever I come to Louisiana), and many of the friends I’ve made in the course of photographing there – Nook, Huncho, Nino, Rudy, Myron – are dear to me. I’ve watched them grow as people and artists and in many ways I feel as if I’ve found my creative community here – in underground Louisiana street rap – rather than in “photography” so to speak.
I believe what these young people are making is folk art in the finest sense, something completely sui generis that speaks organically to their own lives and the people closest to them. My photography there originates from that respect and genuine feelings for what they’re doing. Their approach is something we could all learn from as humans and artists. With almost no institutional support or resources, they find a way to make music and talk about what’s closest to them.