After receiving permission from the Flannery O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation to visit and photograph, in April, 2007 I went to Milledgeville from my home in South Carolina. Andalusia is located on Highway 441, four miles outside of town. Visitors must traverse a four-lane highway of sprawl to reach the entrance to the farm across the road from the Comfort Inn. The driveway is a rocky dirt road that winds up through a leafy tunnel. The two-story house, situated at the top of the hill, is simple white clapboard with columns and a screened front porch. An oak tree shelters the house from the late afternoon sun. The white iris is in bloom, as is the white wisteria. There is an old stable to the left of the road where the placid hinny stands alone under a tree in the cool of the shade. There is a scattering of outbuildings in various states of collapse around the vicinity of the house: a stable, the Hill house, the water tower, the milking shed, and the big barn. All of these elements figured into the landscape of O'Connor's stories.
The place is eerily quiet except for the occasional sounds from the auto sales lot p.a. system nearby on Highway 441. Once inside the gate of this five hundred acre farm, it is not easy to see any of the sprawling development that surrounds it. The only place from which I could view the sprawl (in the iconic form of a Wal-Mart store) is a hilly meadow at the front of the farm. Although the giant store is not visible from Tobler Creek, it is less than a half a mile away, and sounds were carried back to me through the bare trees when I photographed there.
The house is basically preserved as it was when O'Connor lived there with her mother Regina Cline O'Connor. It has two large front parlors with a central hallway on the ground floor. O'Connor's bedroom and writing place are located in the left front parlor. The room is very orderly with no trace of the small-scale chaos that might have been there when she lived and wrote in this room. The room has an antique wooden twin bed placed next to a small desk with typewriter and chair. The desk is moved against the back of the armoire. Nearby are the crutches she used. Every morning O'Connor got out of bed and came to this small desk to write for two or three hours. There is a Morris chair for reading. The mantelpiece still contains her clock stopped at 4:13, small framed photographs, and a Whitman's candy box. There is the sense that this is the way it was arranged when she left this room for the last time in 1964.
Andalusia, Spring and Summer 2007
After reading Lawrence Downes' article, "In Search of Flannery O'Connor," in the New York Times in 2007, I felt compelled to go and see Andalusia. Although Susana Rabb's evocative color photographs captured Andalusia, I wanted to see how I could photograph it. My intention was to go there to photograph once, but I found that my connection to the place has deepened and I have now traveled there three times in a year.
I am a Georgia native and have ancestors who came from the nearby farmlands of Meriwether County and Pine Mountain. The landscape of Andalusia felt familiar to me the first time I set foot on it. Although I have read some O'Connor, I am no scholar of her work. I continue to study O'Connor as a means of understanding this place. My interest is in trying to photograph the landscape as O'Connor saw it in her time and to allow the traces of her presence there to reveal themselves. Another connection for me is that my late mother attended Georgia State College for Women (as it was then known) a few years ahead of O'Connor. Their paths might have crossed, but my mother, Neva Frances Boak, only stayed one year before leaving to work as a secretary in Atlanta. There is something in my memories of my mother's sense of humor and use of language that is familiar to me in reading the O'Connor letters.
Andalusia, Winter 2008
As a photographer, I have worked in series that deal with the southern land and its history. My series have dealt with Civil War landscapes, southern rivers, southern ruins and the Carolina Low Country. My method of working is to use an 8x10 wooden view camera with a tripod. I use this because of its ability to render detail and a sense of place. The 8x10 sheets of film give me the negative I need for the platinum contact prints. The platinum print expands tonality, revealing a truthful sense of place. I work alone and slowly. The advantage in going slower is in careful looking. Sometimes I am not sure what I am looking for, so I am in a state of watchfulness.
When I went to Andalusia in August, there was a heat wave with temperatures of 106 degrees. The ground was so dry that the grass felt like a stiff brush under my feet. Yet there was a still beauty to the place. Going back again this last winter, I saw the farm in the clear winter light. The shadows played on form in a way not visible in the atmospheric summer light. The bare tree limbs and winter vegetation revealed the bones of this strange and yet familiar landscape.
About the Photographer
Nancy Marshall is a native Atlantan now living in McClellanville, South Carolina. She received her M.F.A. in Photography from Georgia State University School of Art and Design in 1996. From 1988-2005, she was Emory University Visual Arts Senior Lecturer in photography. Her work has been widely exhibited and can be found in many private and public collections, including Atlanta's High Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. She has been awarded the National Endowment for the Arts/Nexus Grant for Book Arts, the Southern Arts Foundation Fellowship for Photography, and the Emory College Excellence in Teaching Award for the Humanities, and was a fellow of the Ossabaw Island Genesis Project. For more on Nancy Marshall's photography, please visit www.nancymarshall.net.