One, One Thousand | Southern Photography


Rotan Switch
by Lisa McCord

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Project statement:

The photographs featured in this collection document life on a cotton farm, specifically Rotan, also known as Ohlendorf Farms at Rotan Switch*. This is my grandparents' farm on the Mississippi River in Northeastern Arkansas near Osceola.

Not only do these vernacular images reflect my family's heritage, but also the agricultural life of many African-Americans in the rural south. These photos preserve a part of history, tenant farming, which no longer exists.

I was allowed into the local homes, cafes and churches to capture images similar to those of my childhood. I remember drinking water from gourds dipped into metal buckets. Twenty years later, James used the same metal buckets to wash the family cars and for other household tasks. I learned to ride my small, navy- blue bike with the help of Penson's children. When I photographed their family I saw the neighborhood children playing much the same way as we did. As a young adult, I "snuck" into the cafes, to join the people who met to relax after a hard week of work. Although I was always the only Caucasian in the café, I was received warmly. It was natural to photograph these endeared friends. We shared friend chicken and black-eyed peas, cooked by Cully, my grandparents' cook and our beloved nanny. We sang "Sweet Jesus Take Me Home" at Cully's church so many times. These memories are printed on my heart as clearly as these images are printed on paper.

*Rotan Switch is the name of the railroad stop where the cotton bales were loaded onto the trains to travel northeast to the textile mills.


Bio and contact:

I was precocious child, born to a young mother and grandmother who were painters and creative spirits. My mother's art determined the course of my life. If my mother wanted to paint in a new place, we simply moved. We moved 13 times before I was 18. I often accompanied her to the Arkansas Arts Center where she took figure-painting classes. During class, I shaped clay sculptures, based on the nude model on the other side of the divided painting studio. She taught me to use my imagination and find a sense of home in my self-expression. Like my mother, I too, lived in many places, following my photographic curiosities. It wasn't until after graduate school, that I settled in one place, Los Angeles with my husband and son.

Since we moved so many times, my sense of place is based on my grandparent's home, a cotton farm in Arkansas on the Mississippi Delta, where they lived for most of their lives. My grandparents and their home was the only permanent thing in my life. Much of my work draws from my relationship with permanence and transience.

While studying at an all-girls boarding school in Michigan that is connected to Cranbrook Academy of Art, I became interested in photography. I pursued an education in photography at schools in New York, Paris, and Greece, and California. I lived and photographed in London, Guatemala, Haiti, and throughout the United States. After finishing graduate school, I taught photography at several high schools and universities in the LA area. I am now working full time as a fine art photographer, allowing the camera to take me places both in the past and present, creating photographs that explore my memories and tell my stories.


Lisa McCord is a Pacific Palisades, CA, based photographer.
To view more of her work, please visit her website:
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