I Documented One Of The Most
Dangerous Cities In America: My Hometown
Memphis. A city of infamy, known by many for its reputation as badlands. One regularly touted as one of the most dangerous cities in America. From a wide lens, it appears as a city riddled with crime, inundated in poverty, and poor in repute. Look no further than Memphis’ oft ranked position as “The Poorest Metropolitan City in America.” These are many of the reasons that I said goodbye. When I left, I declared to family and friends that I was finished with Memphis. I emphasized that the city and I would never reconcile. Fast forward 10 years, and I realize that Memphis was not finished with me.
Let me say, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my hometown. It is a relationship filled with years of memories with family and friends. It was also a relationship where the good was mostly shadowed by traumatic events in my life while growing up in Memphis. Events that would long be etched into our history together and would keep me at arm’s length. Visits with those family and friends became less regular, and when I was present in body, I was absent in mind. I stopped paying attention to the city, the emotions as distant as the body. I no longer cared about who would run for Mayor, what would become of old buildings, or the state of current affairs.
10 years, a few cities, many miles and memories, and a marriage later found me in the Chicagoland area. It was “The Great American City”, and it was “My Kind of Town.” Yes, it was a city of art, a city of experience, a city of people, and a city of endless opportunity it seemed. That came with a price. We found ourselves burdened by the cost of living. Day by day, I saw my spouse’s emotional state spiraling. As much as I loved the Chicago area, I knew my family’s well-being was suffering, and I realized that we needed to act soon. At that moment, I did what I said I couldn’t, I did what I said I wouldn’t. We were going to move back to our hometown: Memphis.
When I first got back to the city, I was here but I wasn’t present. I didn’t venture out much. I kept myself occupied by working on the home, creating from old photography work in places from my travels to Chicago, France, Croatia, Japan, etc. For a time, I lacked the drive to go out and capture new photos. This wasn’t because I thought Memphis wasn’t photogenic. Indeed, I had taken thousands upon thousands of photos in the area when I was younger. To boot, my spouse often described a Memphis that I didn’t recognize, their experience clashing with mine. It still existed. There was still that arm’s length between Memphis and I that was built all those years ago. Five months elapsed before motivation came around, and I finally decided to venture off into the city and try to capture photos. The unexpected happened: I got lost.
I didn’t recognize my hometown. It was not the city from my past. It was not the Memphis that I had kept at a distance for so long. There had been such a dramatic change. I saw a passionate city, and a growing population of people that realized that it was great and was seizing the opportunity to reestablish Memphis as a popular destination. I saw a city that hadn’t forgotten its past, but it was looking toward its future.
This series is an ongoing project that focuses on highlighting those efforts and counters the ongoing narrative of Memphis’ poor repute. It is a city with real problems to be solved, but also a city full of opportunities to be seized and one with so much to enjoy. (Don’t get me started on the public transportation system).