When asked to contribute to the Where We Live photographic fellowship, I deeply considered the work I was asked to respond to—namely Alex Harris’ 1971-2 North Carolina body of work, made nearly forty-five years ago on this very soil.
The first thought that came to mind was: what has changed? What might I add to this visual conversation? What is newly evident in North Carolina—and the greater United States—as well as the practice of photography? What might provide a window onto our shifting terrain and home-place, not to mention demographic?
The first photograph I encountered in Harris’ portfolio depicted a black migrant worker, made in Carteret County in the June of 1972. Therein I quickly found my subject.
North Carolina maintains a largely agricultural economy today, but these fields are no longer toiled by black migrant workers. Hispanic workers have replaced the black workforce, though they, too, are migrants in transient living spaces. The faces may have changed, but the life of a nomad remains. This sheds light on broader shifts within the United States as the Hispanic population replaces the black population as a lower-class workforce—subject to its living conditions, in all its degradations and self-made dignities.
This look at the dwelling places of migrant farmworkers is ultimately a consideration of how one creates a home settlement while residing in a transient state of being. I hope the photographs speak to both the new and the old: vanishing landscapes and emergent—albeit tenuous—inhabitances.