Richard Ansett – Lynching in America

3 minute read

Who are you?

I am not entirely sure, which has driven me to seek out some sense of place and understanding through my work with a camera recording the lives of other people and the world. Everything presented is in some way autobiographical. I reveal my presence in the landscape acknowledging my influence in shaping the view consciously or otherwise. I define myself as an ambivalent student of Neue Sachlichkeit. I believe that any attempt at objectivity can only be reached in the acceptance of it as an impossibility.

What are you doing?

I am travelling through the southern states of the United States; Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky, I think there is another state but it all looks the same. There is a drunk journalist on the back seat of my Hertz Honda Subaru.

How does your work relate to the theme “The Great Outdoors”?

The body of work created during this recent road trip attempts to tackle America and ‘Americana’ as the accepted defining tool of the great outdoors, the vastness of the country is only matched by the plethora of artistic representation and it is a huge challenge. The road trip was an opportunity to examine my relationship to what had gone previously and attempt to self-consciously seek out my own holy grail.

In terms of the theme, this project tackles the vastness of space and time through the record of a simple act in an otherwise un-extraordinary woodland glade. I do not wish to compete with the mono-cultural majesty of an Ansel Adams where drama undermines humanity as definition of what is beautiful or definitive in the representation of  ‘The Great Outdoors’.



Can you tell us a bit about your project, Lynching in America? What inspired it, what challenges were presented?

Whilst I was in Montgomery, Alabama I met with the Equal Justice Initiative and was introduced to their Community Remembrance Project, an ambitious scheme that attempts to make sense of the silent legacy of lynching through the collection of soil from the sites of over 3500 horrific sanctioned murders. The soil is collected in special jars, which are added to an installation in a new museum and memorial opening in 2018.

I travelled to the town of LaGrange, the first town to officially apologise to the black community for the lynching of a 16-year-old boy, Austin Callaway. I met with the community there and arranged to go to the site where Callaway’s body was found to collect soil for the EJI memorial jar by his direct descendants, Walter and Francis.

My lack of understanding of place and dislocation from any understanding of my background inspired me to tackle this subject in recognising the effects on our relationship to the present by our past. The Community Remembrance Project acknowledges the forces within and beyond awareness that can create obstacles to a successful engagement with the present.

The biggest challenge is in the representation of such a huge subject within the boundary of the pure photographic medium i.e. ‘in camera’. My role is not to attempt the bigger picture but to find the shared humanity. The EJI are as interested in the damaging legacy for the white community as passive observers and descendants of a generation that supported or turned a blind eye to the abuses. If we accept that the subjugation of the black community has an existing legacy in present behaviour, it is not too much of a stretch to apply this same logic to the white community. So my presence in this landscape visited for the first time by the descendants is equally as relevant in the context of healing and the potential for change.

The collection of soil is both a moving and therapeutic act for the descendants as we stand in silence this clearing of woodland outside LaGrange. Our relationship to this now peaceful space is informed by the knowledge of the past. The descendants are collaborators in a performance for the camera and the photography is part of the healing. Walter and Francis are being seen and valued. We focus on the soil as established right-wing metaphor and misappropriation of homeland or ‘Heimat’ and we reclaim it.

Do you have a favourite photo from the collection, and why is it your favourite?

The image of Francis’s hand holding the soil brings the past and present together in that moment.

How has the project informed your life since completing it?

Having felt the value to everyone in our participation in this project, I am increasingly interested in the act of photography as a therapeutic tool for subject and artist as a way forward.

Is there anything else you want to add? 

Thanks for your interest it means a lot.

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