Meredith Davenport in Residence at Paper Machine

My practice combines a lifetime as a documentary photographer with an impulse to expand and build upon the language of photographic images. Being witness to and telling stories about the world I live in are at the heart of everything I do. After years of working as photojournalist, I returned to graduate school to think more deeply about the photographs I was making and explore different approaches to images and truth. I have always immersed myself in the community I am working in and value long form storytelling. I now bring those intentions and commitments to my practice as an artist and an educator. Teaching and collaborating with students has become a central part of my practice. In 2012, I was awarded a Fellowship from the Everson Museum for a performance piece and theater workshop related to my book Theater of War which documented war games in the US. During the fellowship, I worked with local youth in a workshop around the ideas of representation in war photography. The group then performed in a living photograph, re-enacting an image from the Theater of War book. The performance was part of the TONY Biennial in Syracuse, NY. In Rochester, students and I built an interactive project as a response to the stilted media conversation around immigration. We interviewed dozens of people in our community, asking simple questions like “what does home mean to you?” and “where do you feel safe?” These interviews became a website and were part of an installation of posters that used a very simple augmented reality program that allowed viewers to activate the voices behind the images. We named the project If these walls could talk. I have continued to explore education based collaborations and this past summer I worked with students in Bastrop, Louisiana to create an installation of their portraits of each other in the town square. The workshop was based on the work of Wendy Ewald, especially her ideas around literacy through photography. I have been experimenting with text—especially excerpts from historical family records like baby books and found documents. I am interested in combining visual and written narratives into a series of disjointed stories that unlock deeper, more disturbing realities.

Much of my recent work explores themes around the brutality of the summer climate and the flooding of the Mississippi basin and how the psychology of weather relates to the history of enslavement in Louisiana, and in particular to my ancestors. In New Orleans, I will add to and deepen these ideas building upon previous explorations by creating another set of chapbooks related to narratives around psycho-geography. Time in New Orleans will allow me to research my family’s history, particularly the journey by Captain Josiah Davenport on the Mississippi River with the enslaved people he brought from the north. Like most of my previous work, I expect that this departure point will lead me into new and old stories that will help frame a context for understanding the racist narratives that are still alive today. The identity of New Orleans is quite different from Northern Louisiana. This could open up an unexpected dialog of enslavement on many levels. It will be exciting both creatively and intellectually to be in the city and to consider this unique place and how race and whiteness function there. The work I am doing belongs to and in Louisiana. The creative community in New Orleans will be a valuable asset for deepening and informing this project. I plan to continue work on a series of chapbooks that combine documentary poetry found in my research around my family history and images made and found related to that research.