Omussee Creek Mound, Henry County, Alabama, 2019

Archival pigment print from wet-plate collodion tintype

Image courtesy of the artist

Jared Ragland and Cary Norton

Birmingham, Alabama

Where You Come From is Gone explores the importance of place, the passage of time, and the political dimensions of remembrance through the historical wet-plate collodion photographic process. Created on the occasion of Alabama’s bicentennial celebration, Ragland and Norton’s large scale images seek to make known a history that has largely been eliminated and make visible the erasure that occurred across their home state between Hernando DeSoto’s first exploitation of native peoples in the 16th century and Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act 300 years later.

The Omussee Creek Mound was built by the Chacato people, ancestors of the Creek Nation, who between 1550-1700 held a tenuous relationship with Spanish missionaries but were ultimately forced from their customs and lands by European colonists. This region of southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia – including the Wiregrass – was once home to one of the densest concentrations of mound centers in North America and served as a key population and cultural center during the Mississippian era (ca. 1000-1600 A.D.). Today the mound is difficult to distinguish from the short knolls and hillocks along the banks of the Chattahoochee River and is covered in trees and dense foliage – much of which were felled and tangled during 2018’s Category 5 storm, Hurricane Michael.

Using a 100-year-old field camera and a custom portable darkroom tailored to Ragland’s 4×4 truck, the two photographers have journeyed more than 3,000 miles across 30 Alabama counties to locate, visit, and photograph indigenous sites. Yet the melancholy landscapes hold no obvious vestiges of the Native American cultures that once inhabited the sites; what one would hope to document, hope to preserve, hope to remember, is already gone. Instead, Ragland and Norton deliberately document absence and seek to render the often invisible layers of culture and civilization, creation and erasure, and the man-made and natural character of the landscape. The result is a body of landscape photographs in which the subject matter seems to exist outside of time, despite the fact that the project is explicitly about the passage of time, the slippage of memory, and the burying of history.

Victims of violence, warfare, and cultural displacement, the Eastern Woodland tribes were forced to inhabit the sites that Ragland and Norton photograph. Conversely, these images seek to encourage viewers to responsibly reinhabit the space rather than continuing on as uninformed, uninvolved residents. While the relative emptiness of the landscapes elicits a sense of loss or absence, the beauty of the photographs conveys a continued sacrality of the space and puts viewers in touch with history and memory, helping us not only to imagine what may have been but also how best to honor what is, and what has been lost.