Battles of the South
Why choose the small town of Dahlonega, Georgia to shoot this project?
Carolyne—I wanted to shoot in my hometown of Dahlonega because it has always been one of my most complicated relationships, and I wanted to explore this project with Michael there. Although I’m very close with my family and have some incredible lifelong friends, I’ve always felt like somewhat of an outsider in Dahlonega. It's a beautiful place in many ways, surrounded by dreamy mountains, rivers and wineries. However, the social norms and outlooks on issues like race and sexuality through a hyper religious veil have always brought a sense of pain and confusion to me.
What was the catalyst which prompted these shoots?
Michael—Carolyne and I spoke a lot about the South, Georgia in particular, and the battles that come along with growing up here. And from these discussions, I've found that it doesn't particularly matter who you are, or where you're from, but there are common experiences that allow us all to relate to one another. For me, the images evoke a sense of weight and release. Surrender and Victory. Isolation and Liberation. Etc. All of these emotions and sensations that we are constantly facing, accepting and overcoming.
Was your family religious while you were growing up?
M—Religion was present in my family, but it was never weaponized. We definitely attended church and blessed the food at large family gatherings, I was even baptized and sang in my church choir, but I wouldn't say religion or worship was a huge part of my household growing up. Religion used as a means to shame, belittle or chastise always came from an outside party.
What does religion mean to you, if anything?
M—To me, religion is a tool used to teach, mainly where morality is concerned. For example, Christianity has The Ten Commandments, Judaism has the Decalogue, Islam the Islamic Decalogue and Hinduism the Ten Dharmas. All of these basically explain what one should and should not do, and hopefully, you end up with a moral compass that allows people to coexist. But with all things, there is a spectrum and with a spectrum comes extremes.
How has Michael’s experience defined this project?
C—After meeting in Georgia fifteen years ago, Michael quickly became one of my closest friends. I have an immense amount of respect for him, who I watched come of age in this environment alongside me. I’ve been inspired by the way he has always carried himself with such dignity and pride in a culture that sometimes seems to be fighting against who he is innately. Photographing him for this project in my hometown felt a bit surreal, and I’ll always consider it an honor.
Were there any unexpected outcomes from being shot so vulnerably?
M—Not at all. Carolyne and I have known one another for so long and quite comfortable around one another. I am also such a fan of her work that I knew she could really capture something stunning. The experience was almost a bit of a time warp for me honestly. Before we headed out on location, Carolyne's mom, and my badminton partner, made an actual picnic for us to take. I had my dog with me. It was just a really nice day, reminiscent of when we were younger.
Was the process of having your photo taken under this project at all cathartic?
M—Not during the shoot, no. Honestly, most of the time Carolyne and I were trying to make sure we weren't going to get arrested! However, getting to see the images for the first time is when everything comes together. Carolyne shot these images on film, so there was no way to see what we had captured that day until everything was developed. And I have to say I am really proud of what Carolyne was able to capture.
How do you hope these photos will speak upon prevalent stigmas throughout our current society?
M—I hope that anyone looking for answers within this work does not find them. I hope instead that they are filled with enough questions to start a conversation.