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Cate Sampson: All the Place You’ve Got

June 4, 2016 – July 31, 2016


All The Place You’ve Got is a visual anthropology of subsistence life in southeastern Louisiana as captured through medium format film and handmade gelatin dry plate emulsion techniques learned at George Eastman House Museum in Rochester, New York. Inspired by the writings of conservationists like Mike Tidwell and Wendell Berry, the images in this series encompass my exploration of the hinterland beyond New Orleans’ levees: from its altered landscape to what remains of the untouched wetlands and the culture of communities living off the vanishing land of our coast.

The first time I took a boat through one of the levee control structures south of New Orleans it felt as though I was released into a forbidden frontier that I had not known existed. With every mile that our boat sidled through the lakes Cataouatche and Salvador I began to witness the largely hidden culture of a people who live by and of the water. For the next year I would take the same boat to remote stretches of coastal Louisiana to learn about the livelihood of those who have made this isolated landscape their home for hundreds of years. I have learned through my documentation of places like Grand Bayou, Bay Raquette, and Lafitte, Louisiana, that the very culture I am recording in my photographs is vanishing due to coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, industrial dredging, and pollution from nearby coal, oil, and gas terminals. The fault of our exclusionary levee building policy is also often underrepresented in its role in the disappearance of our coastline, which has inhibited the Mississippi River’s long-established legacy of flooding its banks with the rich sediment that is needed to fortify land building along the coast. This action has led to subsidence or the sinking of coastal Louisiana by more than 2,000 square miles over the last eighty years.

The photographs in this series depict communities carrying out the demanding and precarious subsistence tradition in spite of the fragility of the landscape to which they belong. From Native American fishing villages holding on to sustenance practices, to the children prowling levee walls in search of game to bring home for dinner, to families rebuilding homes and churches on the bayou for the second or third instance in a lifetime. All in the hope that their waning culture, the soul of our coast, be preserved for another generation.

~ Cate Sampson