I believe land makes people who they are. The relationship you have with the land you’re on sets the cornerstone of your being. It doesn’t matter if you live in a small apartment in a dense city or on a hundreds of acres in the middle of nowhere.
When that relationship is severed, identity is lost.
HomeLands started as a documentary project, to record the land where I grew up before big machines erased it. I started returning to Indiana several times a year in 2005 to hike the trails and fields I played in as a kid. With each footstep I looked for signs of the world I once knew so well.
An abandoned car that friends stripped the chrome from is now little more than a pile of rust. A thick stone wall surrounding a small family cemetery still stands after more than a century and a half but is failing to keep mother nature from planting trees inside. Concrete stairs on the side of a hill going nowhere, still go nowhere. These ruins were once my playground, guideposts, and tetanus hazards. They were also my first history lesson.
These ruins made me realize we define ourselves by shaping the land around us. As I walked the same trails over and over I came to see how land holds on to memories far longer than people do. And how the same land also allows us to create new identities on top of old.
But what happens when change come from the outside? The catalyst for HomeLands is the construction of the Lewis and Clark Bridge over the Ohio River and the extension of I-265 around Louisville, Kentucky. These projects, one big project really, will change the area I grew up in dramatically. The woods, pastures, and limestone cliffs are being converted to concrete, steel, and asphalt.
This transformation overrides the past lives I see on my walks. I don’t think anymore about the farmland and woods being lost – I think about how it feels to see your home, your sense if identity, slowly vanish around you.
When I started working on HomeLands I was asking the outward questions, "Where am I in this landscape? Why is it important to other people?" Over time, as I grew and my sensibilities changed, I started asking the inward questions, "Who am I in this landscape? Why is it important to me?" I started incorporating subjective truths in my work. Now, I don't think of HomeLands as documentary per se but as creative non-fiction. I'm using methodology rooted in the documentary tradition to tell a metaphorical story.
Because of this change in perspective my walks have become a meditation on the idea of home.
When my family and friends look out onto the new landscape, they won’t see the homes they’ve made. They won’t see themselves. Who will be the stranger then, the land or the people who remember it?