I’m in North Carolina. It’s lush. The green gushes from the trees and ground, spills down the vine covered walls. The bushes blossom white, like flowery afros growing out of the damp mulch.
It’s been 3 and a half years since I was last here. It was a road trip, with three friends. Girls. Americans. Real Americans, from Wisconsin. Girls who knew the real meaning of Americana, not city-bubble babies like me, girls who burst when they found out I’d never been in a Walmart before at 25 years old.
My grandmother lived on the coast of the state, and she was dying. The four of us were traipsing through the Smokey Mountains, stopping at bombed out motels, taking pictures of abandoned dream lives. Real Americana.
The stares were there every time we walked into a place. Somebody too distracted by their confusion to remember their Southern manners. Somebody piercing through my earthly body with their silent moral tantrum.
"What can I get you sir?"
"How’d you get so lucky to be on a road trip with three pretty ladies?"
"What can I getcha fellah?"
Southern manners resonate with me. I like to be warm, and I like it when people are warm to me. I like to smile and say ‘ma’am’ for no reason.
My body changes when I feel hostility directed at me from strangers. My shoulders hunch and I study the ground. My chest goes concave and if I have a hood I hide in it. Anger swells, and tears get hot in my throat.
It was four days all in all. There were seven rest stops, three restaurants, two gas stations, and the bathroom at the hospital where my grandmother died before I finally got the picture; I didn’t feel safe. I was unwanted. An alien. They were waiting for me to leave.
This state is where it all began. I went home enraged, enlightened, and electrified with the need to do something about it.
Two months later, I shot the first 276 portraits for Self Evident Truths, in April of 2011. Three years later, I’ve shot 4,226 faces in over 30 cities, and I’m not stopping until I can take a piss, without a shred of fear, in this very state.
Malia and I. On the beach.
Santa Monica, October, 2013.
Solange, for the cover of Brooklyn Mag, out now. xx
Sweethearts, Elise, Lizzy and Saddah, three of Solange’s best friends, in the new issue of Brooklyn Mag, out now.
Beauty and the Beast.
Macho Mel, Designer/Artist.
Los Angeles, 3.14.13