Family portraiture has long served the function of preserving memory, of making transitory experience into something that can be handed down or carried with us, providing a shield against time, a salve for loss. Beauty and wonder are easily found in the strange and the far away, but the deepest, and perhaps most fragile, beauty often lies in the faces that are literally the most familiar and the lives to which we are bound by history, blood, and love.
I began this series of photographs of my family and hometown in the late 1980s, soon after the unexpected death of my father. Like many Southerners, I was brought up with the belief that moving forward in life requires looking back, back towards home, that laser point on the horizon by which one learns to clarify the angles and shapes of any new experience. We call it Proper Perspective. As a photographer, I found my way home by returning to the backyards and levees of my childhood in Louisiana, by observing the world I have known and watched as long as I can remember. In the beginning, I was more interested in the manifestations than the mysteries of home, intent on a scrutiny that might provide an explanation for my grief. Gradually, I began to understand that to see clearly, it is often important to remain in the darkness of not-knowing. Writing, for me, is a similar process, driven more by instinct than ideas. This is particularly true of my memoir, Miss American Pie: A Diary, which explores the same emotional and geographic territory as these photographs.
John Berger wrote, “Events are always at hand. But the coherence of these events—which is what one means by reality—is an imaginative construction.” A diary or a memoir is an imaginative and subjective construction of real events, as is a series of photographs. No matter the path I pursue in my work, it is always my relationship to family and the world of my upbringing that shapes and defines my perspective. For me, all roads begin and end close to home.
Margaret Sartor's presentation at the exhibit reception on October 19, 2006.
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