I photographed my grandmother for the last ten years of her life. Since her death, I continue to want to make work alongside her. Inspired by the “Flat Daddies” project – life-sized photos of military members that help families cope during deployments, I created “Flat Granny” as a stand-in for my deceased grandmother. “Flat Granny” was a cardboard cutout of my grandmother made from the images I took of her while she was alive. In recent attempts to reanimate her still image, I turned “Flat Granny” into a photographic costume.
Flat Granny and Me is an ongoing series of performances with “Flat Granny” that take place within constructed environments shaped by my colliding "mindscapes" of my family’s endless narratives. A Procession in My Mind is a room-sized diorama with circular backdrop picturing the landscape of my father’s farm with last year’s cotton crop that grew to 8 feet tall. I consider this installation to be both a cyclorama of sorts and a moving image, created in an attempt to give space, time and presence back to the photograph. Recordings of my singing voice, my father’s piano playing, my grandmother talking in her sleep fill the space. Delving into the realm of fantasy, storytelling becomes image and the imagined becomes a multimedia, staged scene in which the viewer is invited to step into the story, into the photograph, not knowing fully what has come before or what will happen next.
My rural hometown of Enterprise, Alabama is home to the Boll Weevil Monument. Privately purchased by a local businessman from an Italian monument catalog in 1919, a Classical Greek female figure stands in the middle of the intersection in the center of town. Altered from its original design, her hands, which were once a fountain, now extend above her head clasping a boll weevil. The Boll Weevil monument honors the insect for totally devastating the region’s cotton crops. The inscription on the monument calls the boll weevil a “Herald of Prosperity”, for it was the boll weevil infestation that forced Southeast Alabama farmers to diversify their crops, replacing cotton almost entirely with peanuts. Today, the boll weevil has been eradicated.
Enterprise, Alabama, was founded in 1881, eighteen years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Early settlers came from Georgia or South Carolina and were middle class families that had no slaves. These families later became sharecroppers working the cotton fields. In the late 1800’s Enterprise was nothing more than cross roads. Because early residents believed so much in their own town, they had a battle cry in the form of a banner stretched across the street (now Main Street) reading, "Pull for Enterprise or Pull Out."
Stationed in Ft. Rucker as a Chief Warrant Officer 3 and Pilot, my grandfather moved the family to Enterprise, where my grandmother spent the next 40 years teaching; first in the rural county schools as a reading teacher, then superintendent of city schools, and finally as a professor at the Enterprise State Junior College until she retired; though, she never stopped. Her teaching was seamless and came as naturally to her as breathing in and breathing out. As her life students, my sisters and cousins never really could tell when her teaching began or when it ended and play was always filled with fascinating facts that fed our imaginations.
In 1968, the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama voted my grandmother “Woman of the Year” for her tireless humanitarian efforts to the community. Along with all the beauty queens and decorated city official in the parade that year, she, too, rode down Main Street, her float clumsily swerving around the Boll Weevil Monument while she waved to the crowd below.