Both of my current on-going series of photographs (A Southern Sense of Place and American Dream) explore the relationships among identity, sense of place, and security. This work has emerged from my experience of one significant event in my life and the impact of that experience on my sense of self and place. In 2011, my professional position working in state government was eliminated and I was laid off. Middle-aged and overqualified, it took me four long years to return to full-time employment. During those years, I lost my home, my pets, and most of my possessions. My life’s narrative became one of loss, disappointment, and existential crisis. It also seemed to me that my life would be forever split into the time before and the time after loss of home and sense of self.
A couple of years ago, I picked up a camera and I started shooting again. I sold my old camera gear so I could purchase an up-to-date digital camera and standard lens. I just went out and started photographing in areas near where I lived with no particular purpose or intent. Over time, two projects emerged and became the focus of my attention. The first project, A Southern Sense of Place, evokes in me the experience of nostalgia for Home and the feeling of place reminiscent of my youth growing up in Kentucky. These photos generate visceral memories of hot summer days, the smell of hay, road trips and odd attractions, as well as forgotten places in the middle of nowhere. Through a combination of subject matter, color and image processing, I try to imbue these photographs with nostalgia for lost times and places reminiscent of home, security, and endless possibilities.
My second on-going project, American Dream, deals with the abandoned and derelict places of broken dreams. So far, the subject matter of these photos has included homes, businesses, churches and utilitarian places, such as barns. I do intend these photos as commentary on the current state of the so-called “American Dream” of home ownership, but for me, personally, they hold much more meaning. I see here the interdependence of sense of place and sense of self and I really identify with these structures that have fallen on hard times. They fascinate me because I see myself in them.
When I photograph derelict or decaying subjects, I feel my inner self projected out onto those crumbling structures. In this way, my camera becomes a window into myself; a means of gaining the distance I need to examine and then capitalize on my negative experiences in positive ways. As artifacts, I believe these derelict places reveal the generative nature of loss in human experience. Creating this series on the American Dream has helped me to accept the disappointment of life as it has unfolded and to find beauty in the remains of all of our lost or abandoned dreams.
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-- Angela Martin
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