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EYES ON THE SOUTH: Kael Alford

Bottom of Da Boot

In light of The Oxford American’s 14th annual music issue and PhotoNOLA, the annual New Orleans photography festival, which was held two weekends ago, I was inspired to do something a little different, and feature a book about Louisiana.

Alford

Kael Alford’s Bottom of da Boot is a book filled with water. Many of the scenes in her photographs seem to carry the threat of being inundated at any minute. Documenting a culture that is inextricably linked to water, Alford captures the homes and communities that make up a small portion of Louisiana’s coastline, specifically the two communities of Isle de Jean Charles and Lower Pointe-aux-Chenes.

Last month, Reggie Michael Rodrigue eloquently described the complex issues surrounding the area in his review of the High Museum exhibit, Picturing the South, as part of his series The Only Stair that Doesn’t Creak. He writes: "Alford’s photos express much in the way of bitter truth. Besides the documentary function of the series, one gets a sense of the search for self and a desire to locate human resilience in the face of disaster."

Many of the images document residents that are intensely proud of their French and Native-American heritage, and proud of their coastal homeland, even as it is being washed out from underneath them. Photographs of flooded homes and roads cover the pages. A wall of pastors that survived flooding from 2008 Hurricanes Ike and Gustav is a reminder of the residents’ tenuous situation.

spread

A sense of defiance in these people is evident in several of the portraits. Some of the residents are pictured standing on or near wooden walkways meant to keep them from sinking into the saturated ground.

chair

Religion is another theme in the book, with many of the portraits featuring images of Jesus and the cross in the background. These portraits also were threatened by the encroaching waters.

cross

christ

A beautiful image of a restless dog chained to its house and pacing back and forth over a well-worn path is paired, on the opposite page, with two children standing defiantly on a pile of fill dirt. The contrast between a restless anxiety to escape, and a proud claim to, the soil that will raise the land above the waves for perhaps another year seems foreboding. Alford indicates this in the book’s introductory essay: “Already, the people and scenes in these images are passing from the physical world.” This work began in 2005 and has been an ongoing project for Alford. By year six, she had seen the death of one of its residents and the abandonment, and subsequent demolition, of several of the homes.

kids

dog

Bottom of da Boot comprises photographs from those six years (2005-2011) and is the first book in a series of three by Alford that will document these communities. She received the Picturing the South commission from the High Museum to complete the project. The book is also the first to be published by Fall Line Press in Atlanta, Georgia.

Fall Line Press, 2012, 128 pp. 78 color photographs, hardcover, 10'' x 9 3/4''

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