Rotan Switch (Project Statement)
The photographs featured in this collection document life on a cotton farm, specifically Rotan, also known as Ohlendorf Farms at Rotan Switch*. This is my grandparents’ farm on the Mississippi River in Northeastern Arkansas near Osceola.
Not only do these vernacular images reflect my family’s heritage, but also the agricultural life of many African-Americans in the rural south. These photos preserve a part of history, tenant farming, which no longer exists.
I was allowed into the local homes, cafes and churches to capture images similar to those of my childhood. I remember drinking water from gourds dipped into metal buckets. Twenty years later, James used the same metal buckets to wash the family cars and for other household tasks. I learned to ride my small, navy- blue bike with the help of Penson’s children. When I photographed their family I saw the neighborhood children playing much the same way as we did. As a young adult, I "snuck” into the cafes, to join the people who met to relax after a hard week of work. Although I was always the only Caucasian in the café, I was received warmly. It was natural to photograph these endeared friends. We shared friend chicken and black-eyed peas, cooked by Cully, my grandparents’ cook and our beloved nanny. We sang “Sweet Jesus Take Me Home” at Cully’s church so many times. These memories are printed on my heart as clearly as these images are printed on paper.
*Rotan Switch is the name of the railroad stop where the cotton bales were loaded onto the trains to travel northeast to the textile mills.