In 1979, I began to document life on my grandparents’ cotton farm, Rotan, at Rotan Switch, located on the Mississippi River in Northeastern Arkansas. (Rotan Switch is the railroad switch where the cotton bales were loaded onto the trains traveling northeast to the textiles mills.) These vernacular images of every day life depict my family’s heritage, struggles, and celebrations, as well as the lives of many African Americans in the rural south.
As a local photographer, I have the unique perspective of being both an insider and an outsider.
I am welcomed into the local homes, cafes and churches to capture images, which reflect the memories of my childhood. I hang out at the junk joints and honky-tonks and join the town’s people who meet to relax after a hard week of work. It feels natural to photograph these endeared friends doing ordinary things. We share fried chicken and black-eyed peas. We sing “Sweet Jesus Carry Me Home” at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church. I spend many hours wandering the fields and local towns documenting the world around me.
Sometimes the hardest stories to document are our own. Taking photographs is my way of participating in life’s moments. I take photographs when my world falls apart, like my brother’s battle with his addictions, which he ultimately lost. I also take photographs to celebrate life, honoring my relationships with the people in Rotan. These photographs shine light on this community that raised and molded me and is interwoven with respect, love, compassion, and integrity. –-LIsa McCord
Lisa McCord is a fine art and documentary photographer from the Arkansas Delta who lives and works in Los Angeles and Arkansas. Her color and black & white photography focuses on her experiences on her family’s cotton farm, allowing the camera to take her places both in the past and present, creating photographs that explore her memories and tell her stories.
McCord received her BFA from San Francisco Art Institute and earned an MFA from California Institute of the Arts. She also attended New York University, Le Contrejour, Paris, and The Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY. She taught photography at several high schools and universities in the LA area including Pepperdine University.
McCord has published several books on her southern life and LA culture, including Rotan Switch, Waiting For The Trial, LA Bathrooms/Pinatas, and Granddaddy & Bruce’s (Elvira) Wedding Reception. She has shown her work internationally and in over 35 exhibitions including SoHo Photo Gallery and Carrie Able Gallery in New York; Bruce Lurie and Building Bridges in Los Angeles; Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins; Classic Photographs Los Angeles, the Annenberg Space for Photography Museum, and the Cotton Museum in Memphis. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including Black & White Photography (UK edition), Float Magazine, and Feature Shoot. She was a Critical Mass Finalist in 2015 and 2016. McCord’s work is in the permanent collections of the Arkansas Arts Center and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.