Photographs and Words by Andrew Moore
Forty years ago this August, Madison Bell and I were at the end of a month-long road trip across the South when we stopped off to visit his friend Carroll in Opelika, Alabama.
One afternoon, she took us outside town to where a house had just burned down. Most of the structure was gone except for an old stove; on top, a handful of utensils had turned molten in the heat and melted almost flat into the iron top. In a nearby hayfield, we found an abandoned car stuffed with brightly colored clothes, and after we each picked something to put on, we played in the growing darkness, like owners of the place.
From far off, we saw a car’s headlights come on, watched it come down the dirt road all the way to us like a shot, barely braking before it pulled into the driveway. A middle-aged black man got out, fixed on our ghastly troupe with undisguised anger and yelling, “What y’all doin’ in my clothes?”
The stench of smoke in my mouth suddenly dissolved into the taste of fear. Carroll’s voice pitched high with innocence and apologies, the clothes regained the trunk, and amidst a cascade of his curses, we shrank into the darkness like those pooling forks and spoons.
In the four decades since, I’ve hardly ever been threatened by a property owner, and I never again went around in burned houses with other people’s clothes on.
Usually, it all goes much better if one gets a little conversation going first, but in the South I would say that’s a moral imperative. Fortunately it’s not too hard to get a discussion going, especially if the “magnolia connection” is working: Since so many families are intertwined in their histories and relations, there is inevitably some overlap that can be counted on. Otherwise, when meeting strangers in the South, its best to be humble, not in much of a hurry, and above all, to be a ready listener.
To continue reading Moore's writings on his time in the south, please click here.
Andrew Moore is an American photographer and filmmaker known for large format color photographs of Detroit, Cuba, Russia, the American High Plains, and New York’s Times Square theaters. Moore’s photographs employ the formal vocabularies of architectural and landscape photography and the narrative approaches of documentary photography and journalism to detail remnants of societies in transition. His photographic essays have been published in monographs, anthologies, and magazines including The New York Times Magazine, Time, The New Yorker, National Geographic, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Fortune, Wired, and Art in America. Moore’s video work has been featured on PBS and MTV; his feature-length documentary about the artist Ray Johnson, “How to Draw a Bunny,” won the Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.