Image turned thirty years old this April. As we reflect on what’s ahead, we asked fifteen visual artists and two singer-songwriters to tell us what they learned and how they changed after turning thirty. Click here for the full collection.
My grandmother often told a story of the time her older brother came upon some small change and brought home sardines and crackers to his new wife. As he came through the door, he proclaimed, “Look what a man’s got!” My grandmother was so tickled by this that she said it any time she felt blessed.
Early in my thirties, I lost my father, a retired army major. I was born in Augsburg, Germany, and spent a good bit of my childhood abroad. A spoiled army brat, I grew up protected from the harsh realities of American society.
Curious about the lives of others, I was drawn to documentary photography. I loved disappearing in the background and catching people as their authentic selves. I photographed dance studios that taught inner-city kids classical ballet, a historic jazz club called Wally’s on the Chitlin’ Circuit in Boston, quinceañeras, Native American powwows in Oklahoma, and street scenes around the country.
But the Deep South always drew me. My father was from Greenwood, Mississippi, and my mother was born and raised in the backwoods of Louisiana. Compared with how I grew up, visiting extended family felt like going back in time. After my father’s death, it hit me that he had grown up surrounded by cotton fields, in the fourth largest cotton-producing region in the world.
I became obsessed with cotton, photographing it almost like it was a rose. I started printing images onto cotton fabric, which allowed me to layer my images with meanings—I often use heirloom or vintage fabrics that have a history built into them.
The title of my current project, Suffrage, refers to the right to vote—but also a series of intercessory prayers or petitions. I have partnered with nineteen women artists of color from across the US and Canada to create our own protest signs that express our personal suffrage and prayers for the future.
Mine includes an image of my ten-year-old daughter holding a sign that says “Enough.” Her pose evokes Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, an iconic image of the civil rights movement. The image is printed onto a six-foot vintage cotton-picking sack. The word “Enough” was taken from a recent speech by Martin Luther King’s nine-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda King, at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington: “I have a dream that enough is enough, and that this should be a gun-free world. Period.”
With this project, my work has gone from exploring my personal history to collaboratively documenting the experiences of others, using my unique form of expression—one born out of the loss of my father and a passionate need to say more.
Look what a woman’s got.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.