In the decade after the Civil War African-American settlements sprang up around the horse farms in Kentucky’s Inner Bluegrass Region. These villages, or hamlets, as they have come to be known were originally inhabited by freed slaves who were needed to work on the area farms. Today, many of the residents are descendents of the freed men and women who founded them. In some cases as many as six generations of a family have lived in succession on a “homeplace” There are many things these hamlets share; agriculture, religion, joy, hardship, friends and relatives, but most importantly they share a great and deep history. With each visit I make I am continually told of people and places where “You need to go. "
Eleven years ago I stood in the middle of Frogtown Lane with a map in hand. I didn’t know a soul. Now eleven years later I know everyone on that lane and those who have passed away. I have been to basket meetings, funerals and family reunions. Even when I am not there in the communities they are always right here with me.
I have written numerous statements on this project over the years, I must admit I have changed those statements from time to time to try and fit into the classifications and requirements of the powers that be who dole out the exhibitions and funding. A bit shameful to admit that but the truth nonetheless. Now I write about experiences that I have shared with those I have photographed and hope that you the viewer can share in those experiences through my photographs.
Last spring when I was the closing speaker for the Robert C. May lecture series at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky I concluded as I do all my lectures with the Jimtown Male Chorus. This time however it wasn’t in the form of a recording. I was honored to have them there, live and in person performing before a photograph I took of them the day I met them eight years earlier.
On this day last spring the audience of over 250 people was made up of many, students, academics, photographers and friends. The most important group were those from the hamlets: Leroy Talbert the son of Ernest who I photographed back in 2002 killing hogs, left work early and drove over 100 miles to see photos of himself and his father who had passed away in 2007, Bill Thomas who never lets me leave his garden with out a box of vegetables, The Benevolent Sisters, Myrtle B, Whitney, Ike, Ponice, Billie and Derek. The list goes on and then there was Betty.
As the auditorium was filling up a woman I did not know approached me. She came clutching the newspaper article about my project and myself. A photo I had taken of her father Mac had appeared in the paper. We had never had the opportunity to meet. She thanked me. We hugged. We cried and laughed about the “Blue House”, the bookie joint her father had run for years known to all, especially to the men over the age of 80 who frequented it. Me lucky enough to have been there and photographed. It now gone, like Mac.
I think my work has grown as much as I have doing this project. So has my daughter who began traveling with me on this project when she was just four years old. She is now 15 and thinks it normal to drive seven hours, photograph for ten, sleep for seven, photograph for another nine and sometimes have to turn right around and drive seven hours back home. But I like to think she has learned along the way as I have, the reward is in the doing.
Hopes and Dreams
I hope to be able to edit and print some of the over 50,000 images I have taken. To have the luxury of time to edit my proof sheets and recordings.
To record more stories from the residents and follow up on their invitations, which has been difficult due to my lack of funds.
To be able to produce a book including their stores both oral and hand written.
To show the world what I have found here in the Homeplaces, kindness, strength, warmth, tradition, culture and love.
- (70 days)