Slow Drift

Jonna McKone

2020 - Ongoing

Slow Drift is a photography, installation and research project exploring landscapes and communities connected to legacies of enslavement, land modification and development that have shaped the environmental history and collective memory of the mid-Atlantic region of the US. The project takes several former tobacco plantations dating back as early as the 1700s as its starting point, exploring the environmental devastation of this period to unearth both scars and the ways we separate ourselves from the histories and land that surrounds us. I began working on this project after learning that the neighborhood where I grew up was carved out of the plantation where the reverend and writer, Josiah Henson, was enslaved. After documenting the first archaeological dig in the community and concerted effort to address the history of the site, the project took shape, linking my identity to ways trauma is buried in the landscape.

Using a view camera as well as alternative processes to make abstractions of archives, texts, plants and maps, the project unearths historical and cultural inscriptions on the land, detailing traces, gestures and memories connected to both the violence of settler colonialism and possibilities for the future. In investigating these places in the present day, the work looks at how suburban spaces are imbued with the legacies of plantation farming. For example, one location is a tobacco farm in which the land owner gave the property to a group of enslaved people he freed because the farming practices exhausted the soil. That land now faces intensive development. I have worked with the descendents of the original landowners and photographed agriculture, vegetation, and the complicated history of this place. Development, gentrification and constant reshaping of the land, its waterways, species and topsoil form the backdrop to the project.

In all my work, I blend a community-based approach with experimental and documentary practices. In building relationships and exploring the process of making images as a form of story collection, I interrogate my own way of looking, how truth is calcified and the way photographs become vessels of narrative, visibility and invisibility. This way of working engages with the camera’s colonial and extractive history. My practice is situated in questioning the documentary tradition. Working with alternative processes and site-specific materials is an effort to log the atmospheric qualities of a place and make images a psychological and emotional engagement with place. The mediums I am using are specific to the work. The lumens and chemigrams are textured, ghostly abstractions that log light, wind and soil on expired silver gelatin paper. Working with a View Camera creates an exchange between artist and land; place and archive; and individual stories and identity. In working this way, each image traverses history, land, memory, and soil itself.

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