Marginal In Nature
photographs by h. lenn keller

 

 

 

 

In this series of self-portraits, my intent was to convey my subjective experience as a black woman living in a predominantly white, rural town, and my personal relationship to the natural landscape as a site of healing and home. By making these photographs, my intent was also to call attention to the representation of black persons in wilderness, and the natural landscape, as an ironic anomaly in contemporary American culture.

The landscape of Sonoma County, in northern California, where these self-portraits were made has a diverse picturesque beauty -- rolling hills abundant with cows and sheep; farmland; majestic redwoods; abundant vineyards; numerous mountain ranges; a large river that empties into the ocean; and miles of untamed coastal beaches, all within a thirty minute drive of each other. The county had a demographic that included wealthy wine growers, upper middle, middle, working class and poor people, struggling farmers, and migrant farm workers. Racially, with the exception of a large immigrant Mexican and Central American population consisting primarily of laborers, and a very tiny southeast Asian community, there were very few other people of color. The black population (consisted of African American, Eritrean and Ethiopian immigrants) was less than 1%. Living as a black woman in this rural area one hour away from San Francisco and Oakland, CA was an experience rife with contradictions. While making the photographs in these beautiful natural settings, I was forced to confront my fears, and was acutely aware of a very real element of danger and risk involved with photographing there as a hyper visible and potentially targeted 'minority' and multiply marginalized person.

The ten original pieces are 16x20 black & white, selenium toned and mixed media prints. This work-in-progress has expanded to include a more comprehensive exploration of black people's relationship to land and nature, and environmental justice issues.

 

 

 

 

all images © lenn keller and may not be used without permission.
all rights reserved.