March 29, 2011
Jasper, Cleveland, Vidor — they're all East Texas towns you drive through on the way from somewhere to somewhere. They're towns of mobile homes, wood framed houses, small churches, and barber shops. They're not places you notice. But now each of these places is synonymous with the horrible things that happened there. I grew up in this part of the country and the news about the rape Cleveland was particularly unsettling because I felt as if I was reading about people I might have known in school. The last names, the scenery, the house where bad things happen, all are familiar archetypes from an East Texas childhood. In my town there was a building called The Front. Everyone knew bad things happened there. Nobody talked about it. I imagine this was something similar. The details of this case are shocking. 19 men ages 14-29. An 11 year old girl. Rapes over three months. The inclination in the community will be "take care" of this situation and forget about it, to blame the devil, and to protect themselves from the darkness around the case. You can already see this happening in the news coverage. My hope is that the case will force people to ask questions... just maybe, the right questions will help shine light into this community and ask how this could happen. There will be no easy answers.
Perhaps because of all this, I've been thinking about a show at the International Center for Photography titled Jasper, Texas: The Community Photographs of Alonzo Jordan. It's a loving portrait of people in Jasper but it could easily be a portrait of folks in Cleveland or Livingston, or Woodville, or any of the other small communities in East Texas. If you are in New York, it's worth visiting and it's worth asking yourself when you look at the images how these communities get from where they were then to where they are now.
p.s. Speaking of the IFC they have another show up on rural baptism rituals that looks pretty amazing. It's titled Take Me to the Water. I hope to see it soon.