"Eudora Welty's Home Abandoned and the Plantationocene"
Lecture Abstract: Eudora Welty (1909-2001) is best known as a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, but she also was a photographer who created an extensive photographic archive of her home state. Although just a third of Welty’s photographs were printed during her lifetime, these images, which offer important glimpses into the landscapes of the segregated South, have been exhibited locally and nationally in museums and galleries and published in numerous magazines and books. Well received by critics, Welty’s photographs garner significant scholarly and public attention but much of this consideration has centered around Welty’s portraits of people, especially African Americans. Welty’s portraits of the landscape, however, are equally revealing and offer opportunities to extend the study of southern racial politics to the built and natural environment. Of her architectural portraits, Welty’s views of Caldwell House are particularly noteworthy. She took eighteen photographs of the house—more than any other building she photographed—at different times of day, most likely over the course of weeks or months. Taking the photograph’s subject, an abandoned plantation house, as my point of departure, and responding to T. J. Demos’s invitation to see “ecology as a mode of intersectionality” that insists “on the inseparability between environmental matters of concern and sociopolitical and economic frameworks of injustice,” this presentation looks to the Plantationocene, a concept that traces the current ecological crisis to the Middle Passage and the establishment of the plantation economy, to argue that Welty’s photographs of Caldwell House and their various iterative performances over seventy-five years open space for new accountings of Mississippi’s social, cultural, and ecological histories and invite us to consider the relationship between the antebellum past, photography, and climate change.
Bio: Keri Watson is an associate professor of art history at the University of Central Florida and a co-executive editor for Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art. She is the author, with Keidra Daniels Navaroli, of This Is America: Re-Viewing the Art of the United States (2022) and co-editor, with Timothy W. Hiles, of The Routledge Companion to Art and Disability (2022). Her research has been published in journals including Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature; Museums and Social Issues: A Journal of Reflective Discourse; the Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies; the Eudora Welty Review; and the Journal of Museum Education; and it has been recognized and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulbright-Terra Foundation, and the Society for the Preservation of American Modernists.