Ryan Steed, born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, lives in Memphis, Tennessee, Damn the Headlights, 2015, chromogenic print, 18 x 24 inches
Damn the Headlights from the Photographic Series Went out for Cigarettes
“I can understand why Southerners are haunted by their own landscape and in love with it.” – Walker Evans
The series’ title may be the old cliché of someone walking out the door one day on a random notion and never returning, but it also poses the question of what one might find on such a journey. I went in search of the South
I know — not only as a region but also as a concept. Went out for Cigarettes encompasses four states, but regardless of the geography, these images share a familiar physical and psychological landscape.
Southerners are constantly witnessing things dying away. Right before something breathes its last, be it
landscape, structure, or conviction, we try to revive it, forever trying to grab hold of a fleeting moment.
This region takes pride in its definition unlike any other place in the country. Southerners are curators without
white gloves. The region is eternally trying to save face. The South doesn’t go out to fetch the mail without putting on makeup. We repress certain elements of our past: our politics, our religion, our sexuality. While at the same time, we praise all these things. This region is a didactic contradiction.
– Ryan Steed
As a Southerner, I must carry the inherited baggage that comes with being a part of this region. In my search
for the region I know, I have come to realize this cultural landscape is one of contradictions that often feel
unfamiliar. I often feel as if I am navigating this place with a broken compass. The South is a place both
inviting and hostile. At times I feel included while other times I feel excluded. I find myself circumventing a
landscape of mixed messages. This region is my home. I will always be a part of the South, and with a camera,
I will continue to search for the meanings and layers of this complex landscape even if my compass is one
without a true heading.
– Ryan Steed
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