Cold Cases and Inescapable Heat in the Deep South

Cold Cases and Inescapable Heat in the Deep South
Words by  RYAN SPARKS . Photos by  TERRI GARLAND .


Photographer Terri Garland first toured the South in the early nineties, documenting the Ku Klux Klan.  Since then, she has returned often to Mississippi and Louisiana, capturing disappearing wetlands, rural culture, and the personalities that occupy our romantic, troubled terrain. 

Her series "Delta Creation Theories" contains triptych images compiled after a series of visits to the deep South from 2007 to 2010.  She did not start out with the idea of juxtaposing images, but, after returning home to California, she decided to try to create small narratives with the large archive she had gathered.  

Delta Creation Theory #11

"I’ll use the writing analogy," she told me.  "In some ways, they might read as paragraphs as opposed to a single word or short sentence. Of course, some short sentences are far more powerful than longer passages, so it really is dependent upon the viewer’s perception."

The series brings us into contact with a physical atmosphere, both outdoors and inside humble homes.  It stacks moments and totems side by side.  

Delta Creation Theory #5

Garland said, "While composed of actual, physical places and objects, the pieces really are about trying to put a memory into visual form. I had begun to photograph in the South twenty years ago making pictures of racist groups and events, and those early experiences have continued to underscore what I notice and am drawn to photograph. But along the way I also fell in love with the South [...] I’m drawn to exploring regional myths and assumptions and the contradictions inherent in the historical social landscape."

Garland's triptychs share not just a place, but a personal attraction.  We move often between such sites and scenes, but don't always recollect them as a whole at the end of the day. Garland, as a photographer, tends to shoot often and edit later, so she relies on her memory and intuition to assemble her images.

"My process of putting the images together was purely a matter of what intuitively worked for me visually," she said.  "A number of the pieces are homages – to Emmett Till, his uncle – Mose Wright, Dr. King, Medgar Evers. People familiar with those individuals will recognize some of the component of the pictures but not others. I was not trying to illustrate history, but rather create images that spoke to my reaction to those situations after physically being in those locations."

Jena, Louisiana

As an outsider who is also a frequent visitor, Garland has a unique perspective.  She doesn't pretend to have a detached presence behind the lens.  Many of these photographs were taken as she explored the lives and landscapes of families whose lives were impacted by violence and unsolved murders.  

"There was a constant, sometimes low, sometimes high, level of anxiety based on what I was learning from my story’s protagonist [...] My frame of mind would vary enormously – from excited to saddened. I felt honored that so many people would give of their time to share with me stories and memories of their loved ones who had been murdered. These conversations would come to mind as I was putting together the images back home in California."

Photographs from Garland's "Delta Creation Theory" series will be on display at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art from December 12-January 5 as part of CURRENTS, its annual collaborative exhibition with PhotoNOLA.  To see more of this series and other work, visit her portfolio site.