In 2014, Nina Robinson traveled to Dalark, Arkansas to document her grandmother’s passing and her family’s grieving process. What began as a small, personal project quickly grew into a two-year documentary report, eventually titled, “Not Forgotten: An Arkansas Family Album.”
Yet even as Robinson began to expand her scope, she wanted to keep a human-scaled interest at the project’s heart. In her own words, “Dalark and the surrounding communities have experienced varying states of decline over the past couple of decades—but my approach was never about the death of the towns. It’s about what continues to live in the memory of those who have passed on…The work has a strong focus on love, pride and continuing traditions…looking at what binds together my family’s declining community, the strength that still remains.”
Indeed, Ms. Robinson’s family has a storied history in Arkansas, extending back six generations. In her photos, the viewer witnesses the delicate process of older members preserving traditions and handing them down to the young. To capture these moments, the photographer extensively documented the many gatherings, celebrations and reunions that serve as anchors for Dalark’s black community.
For Robinson, still photography has the power—like these communal gatherings—to educate and convey something about the ever-diminishing present. The project also contains a multimedia component, which offers a poetic dimension of interviews with family, local historians, and other members of the community. These personal stories underpin the project’s desire to preserve the unique character of a distinct, yet fragile, culture.
Of course, Dalark, and its environs, is just one community among an endless constellation, across America and the world. In the end, Robinson tells us, “I hope my work inspires others to want to know more about their own family history and ancestry....the more you know about your history, the stronger you are as an individual.”
Editors’ Note: These photographs will be exhibited at Bronx Documentary Center in New York City until May 29, 2016.