Viewfinder: A Family Tradition

Charlotte Strode began getting serious about photography after her Pulitzer-Prize winning father gave her the cameras he used to shoot photos in Vietnam during the war. Now Charlotte uses the lens to explore her roots and connections in rural Kentucky.

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Charlotte Strode was born and raised outside Louisville, Kentucky, and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. In 2012 and 2014, she was featured as an emerging Southern photographer for Jeff Rich's column in Oxford American, "Eyes on the South". She has also been a participant in Flash Power Projects, and was recently featured in Fraction Magazine and FOCAL POINT. She has studied photography at the International Center of Photography in New York City. See more of her work on her website and flickr page. The daughter of photographer William Strode, Charlotte Strode learned to pay attention from her father.  Though now living in the nation’s largest city, rural places inspire much of her work.

Jane Gentry Vance in her family's barn in Athens, Kentucky, May 2011.

 

DY: Where did you grow up?  Tell us a little about your background.

Charlotte Strode: I grew up on a small horse farm in Goshen, Kentucky, just outside of Louisville. My house was an old red farmhouse, sitting on about 15 acres with a huge garden and porch overlooking a lake in the back – I was surrounded by nature and it became the biggest sense of comfort for me. My father was a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and worked in the field throughout his life. Through him, I learned what it means to have a profound affection for ones place on earth. He would always pull over on the side of the road to marvel at the magic of Kentucky’s color palate, or tell me to take a deep breath in to appreciate the smell of recent rain or fresh hay in the barn, or to sleep with my windows wide open for the chorus of cicada season. He taught me to pay attention. 

Left: Midway, Kentucky, October 2012. Right: Lexington, Kentucky, May 2011.

 

DY: Where do you live now?

CS: I currently live in Brooklyn, NY. I moved here in 2009 when I was 26, knowing that if I didn’t experience New York at some point in my life I would regret it. For a girl who grew up far away from a big city, New York is the most thrilling place in the world.

Shiloh Methodist Church. Oldham County, Kentucky, July 2011

 

DY: When and how did you start taking photographs?

CS: As a child, I was completely surrounded by it. I wasn't really interested in learning but I learned by osmosis, whether cataloging slide film to earn some spending money or helping in the darkroom. At Christmas when I was 22, my father gave me his old Nikon F's that he used in Vietnam — he was dying of cancer at the time and it was such a weighted gift, like he was passing me something of himself that he knew I would cherish. A few months later when he died, I was living in the Northeast finishing up college at Boston University, and that’s when I started shooting. I would visit home and drive down my favorite roads, visit the river, and photograph my memories. I began exploring other parts of the South that made me feel nostalgic. Photography became my own exercise of understanding a loss.  

Georgetown, Kentucky, November 2013.

 

DS: We’re featuring photos from two of your photo series: “Songs from the Road” and “Home Will Welcome You Back with Memory.”  Tell us about each of these series and how they started. 

CS: The first series I ever put together was “Home Will Welcome You Back with Memory.” It’s an intimate portrait of Kentucky: the people I love, the places in which I find comfort, the visual vernacular of it. Kentucky is not just a geographic location, but a state of mind with its own soul that I connect to deeply. This series is an attempt to catch hold of the happiness and comfort I feel for it.

“Songs from the Road” came about when I was trying to make sense of a collection of photographs I had spanning seven years. “Songs from the Road” is ultimately about my dad and searching for the set of values that he taught me – a simple way of living that feels humble and pure, rooted in a strong sense of place. Road trips have become an exercise to understand place and awaken these values, anywhere from the unfamiliar corners of Maine to the familiar reaches of the South. In the way that songs bring about stories and preserve memories, photographs also have that power.

Oldham County, Kentucky, July 2012.

 

DY: Many of your photos are set in rural places, but you live in New York City.  Do you consider yourself a “rural” photographer?

CS: I don’t really, but rural places are what inspire much of my work. I am obsessed with the small sensory experiences of life, which can be so easily lost in the distractions and pace of a big city. Being in a rural place allows me the space to pay attention and be present.

Georgetown, Kentucky, November 2011.

 

DY: Do you think living in such a big city influences how you view rural places and landscapes?

CS: When I moved to Boston and then New York, I finally understood how special it was to grow up in a more rural place and how much I miss it. Living in a big city has significantly altered my perspective and left me with a profound appreciation. 

Shelby County, Kentucky, November 2013.

 

 

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