A Sense of Place; A Sense of Presence
Almost Two Decades Observed, Photographs from South Louisiana 1981-2000

    "I am a project oriented photographer working within the documentary tradition. I am interested in combining a self expressive/spiritual connection with service thus contributing to the enlightenment/awakening of a moral consciousness and the social issues of our time."

    Since the beginning of the last decade, I have been making photographs along the Great River Road for the purpose of preserving moments in time and recording information that is relevant to a sense of place and a sense of presence.

    The River Road parallels the Mississippi River as a double track of black top, which snakes along the river flowing south to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the River Road and into the backcountry south of Baton Rouge is a land and culture different from anywhere else in the United States.

    The Great River is of an awesome power and spectacle. I have seen huge trees the size of telephone poles disappear or suddenly appear in its undertow currents. Unless one is actually on the levee, the river is obscured from view. From the vantage-point of the levee, one may observe river traffic--sea voyaging ships and barges as they navigate the twists and bends of the river. The petro-chemical plants, which sit along the bank replaces the nineteenth century plantations that, were the source of power and commerce for their time. Antebellum homes are often all that remains of this lost culture. They too take their place along the riverbanks. This is also sugar cane country. The cane dominates the landscape from mid summer until the harvest in October. The survival of this rural life depends upon the levee protection system and the fragile sugar economy. From October until December, the sugar cane is harvested. The back roads are crowded with cane loaders, tractors, and trucks hauling their slow lumbering loads to the nearest grinding mill raising dust in their wake. The roads are littered with chafe and unprocessed cane. The mills are cooking and processing as quickly as possible in a rush for time. Hurricane wind or a killing frost is often on its way. The fields are burned. Smoke may be seen for miles rising to the sky like some ancient sacrificial fire. The burning results in preparing the fields for the next planting by getting rid of the chafe left behind and are almost a ritualistic purification of the soil ready for the next cycle of life and season.

    These photographs also represent many years of work photographing the industrial landscape of the chemical corridor called "cancer alley" located along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. These photographs of the plants and refineries remain as a silent witness to the destruction of the ecological system of the planet. Making these photographs causes me much internal stress. I am constantly running into obstacles from plant security, parking restrictions, and a risk to my own health. It is important to make a beautiful photograph somewhat like Snow White's apple given to her by the wicked queen, luscious and red on the outside and so poisonous on the inside. I invite you to look deep into these photographs; Louisiana paints its own picture.

A. J. Meek

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