MANIFESTO

#63

CHANGE OF SPACE

SWEET HOME ALABAMA

2023.11.16

Text by Alice Schirò

DORA, YERKWOOD, WALKER COUNTY, ALABAMA 

 

Photographer Fumi Nagasaka documents the life of small American towns in an intimate and genuine telling, within the pages of her new book.

When Fumi Nagasaka left Japan for New York in 2002, she was young, shy and naïve. Her rebellious spirit and her desire to explore brought her to the city of freedom and new opportunities, where photography allowed her to communicate, grow and connect with the people and new culture around her, inspiring the photographer to document her surroundings. Shortly, after moving to New York, Fumi began portraying the New York lifestyle, specifically youth culture’s, on which the artist has kept focus during her whole career and still does in her new photographic book Dora, Yerkwood, Walker County, Alabama, published by Gost Books. For over two decades the stories of the people Fumi meets take on a new life through her lens, which gives back, with great honesty and sensitivity, the essence of who’s on the other side of the camera, catching and freezing in time the concept of youth, temporary and fleeting by definition. It’s not always easy for the people portrayed to expose themselves in front of a camera, but Nagasaki’s desire to communicate and her subtlety in narrating what she sees make her perfect for the role, inspiring trust in the ones around her.

Teen Spirit, 2018 © Fumi Nagasaka.

“People carry stories that are not easy to share and I am grateful to those who trusted me enough to share theirs. This project gave me energy and purpose in my life and reminded me why I take pictures.”

– Fumi Nagasaka

Amiyah and Tavean, 2020 © Fumi Nagasaka.

Dora, Yerkwood, Walker County, Alabama starts taking shape around 2017, when the artist was invited by her friend Tanya Rouse to spend some time in Dora, Alabama. After developing an interest in rural America, Fumi visits the city a few times during the years, gradually exploring the community and building relationships with the people who live there. With a few more than 2,300 residents, Dora is a small city in Alabama: church, football fields and Jack’s, the regional fast food chain, make up the landscape and everyday life of the inhabitants. Nagasaka plunges in this reality with the spontaneity and honesty that characterize her works: glimpses of everyday life follow one another, and display the atmosphere that reigns in this small American city, from portraits of residents to marching band or cheer-leading team practices, from gardens filled with chickens and horses to worn-down shops or houses. As an outsider, coming from a completely different reality than the southern rural American towns, Fumi had to slowly gain the residents’ trust. During her six years of visits, the artist built a relationship with the people, entering into their lives, listening to their stories and translating them into images; she saw teenagers grow into young adults, met unforgettable people, became part of the of the community and began thinking of them a second home, while being considered as part of the family.

“Around the time this project began, I was living in New York working as a photographer. I often felt lonely, stressed out about everyday life and worried about the future. When my friend Tanya first took me to Walker County in 2017… What I found was beautiful, charming and full of love.”

– Fumi Nagasaka

Florist, 2018 © Fumi Nagasaka.
Something Sweet, 2019 © Fumi Nagasaka.
Pink House, 2018 © Fumi Nagasaka.

Flipping through Dora, Yerkwood, Walker County, Alabama is like moving through a family photo album: a framed portrait of a man hanging on the wall, a boy sitting in his car looking right into the camera and Dora’s church under a blue sky introduce the collection in its first pages. Within the 75 pictures collected one finds the intimacy and effortlessness of everyday life, from homemade birthday parties to children playing in the garden. The spirituality and devotion of the small community emerge from the pictures and manifest themselves in their importance: religion is crucial in Dora’s daily life, the church is a place of peace and shelter, Sunday mass is an opportunity to be together and celebrate, when families gather at the end of a long week. Despite the quality of life of most of the community, the struggles with money and the pain of some of their stories, what lingered most in Fumi’s mind after her stay is beauty. A reflection, which is given back through her lens and is mirrored with the same intensity in the pages of the book: the cheerfulness of childhood, the love for family and friends, the faith and joy of living everyday are reflected in the eyes of every person portrayed.

“I can only describe Alabama in three words: family, God and football. Family is everything. It brings a sense of belonging, love, joy and community that keeps us unified. The South is a small, big world where everyone is connected in some way.”

– Diahmin Hawkins, text editor of the book.

Addie Crying, 2019 © Fumi Nagasaka.

Dora, Yerkwood, Walker County, Alabama is published by Gost Books. 

For further information gostbooks.com.

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