In 2016, UK artist Matt Henry headed to Louisiana to make the first of three Southern Gothic photographic stories set in the 1960s that would comprise his second photobook, amidst a deteriorating mood in the Republican heartlands. Donald Trump's racially charged rhetoric and the Black Lives Matter protests against police killings were in full swing, and the Southern Gothic genre seemed relevant and well-equipped to tackle the bile, racism, and violence that had once blighted America's landscape.
The genre was made popular by writers like William Faulkner, Flannery O' Connor, and Carson McCullers in early and mid-century America and featured dark stories set in warped rural communities as a means of social critique. All had been unflinching in their portrayal of racism. Henry's work has mid-century America as its backdrop and by the time he returned to Texas in October of that year, Trump was facing off Clinton, and it seemed that the nation was in dire need of a reminder of the sixties and its tumult.
The Ku Klux Klan had terrorised black communities in the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s, targeting Civil Rights activists in particular with violence, intimidation and assassination, which included two decades of firebombings.
When Henry arrived in Georgia in 2017 to shoot the third and final Southern Gothic story, Trump had been elected, and the Unite the Right rally had just occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulting in the death of one protestor. "I began my project disturbed by the extrajudicial police killings and the rhetoric of Trump, but still wondering whether trawling through all the Civil Rights era stuff was a little anachronistic. By the time I reached the second story, it was very clear that looking back was exactly what we needed to do."
Henry's stories feature familiar themes of racial prejudice, racially-motivated rape and murder, inter-racial relationships as taboo, police corruption, and the power and influence of hate groups like the KKK. "Staging a Klan cross-burning and later a lynching were the two most difficult photographs I have ever put together," says Henry. "They took an emotional toll on cast and crew."
The three stories total 79 images and will make up Matt Henry's second photo book, titled Night of the Hunted. The book, currently on Kickstarter until 11 July, will include three behind-the-scenes texts documenting his experiences with racism in the South and as well as an essay on the Southern Gothic genre.
The book will be released in September and published by Hatje Cantz, and will accompany a six-week solo exhibition in Paris at Polka Galerie, starting mid-September. Find out more about Matt Henry at matthenryphoto.com.