South of the Tennessee, Remains of the Campaign

In 1864, Lincoln met with Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman to formulate plans to bring an end to the Confederacy. Delegating the duties up to various Generals, a divide and conquer tactic was implemented. Sherman was assigned the task of moving against General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee in Dalton, Georgia to destroy railroads and industries. This ultimately led to the destruction of Atlanta.

Does history repeat itself, does the land hold ghosts of the past? One year after the end of the Civil War in 1866, a photographer by the name of George N. Barnard retraced Sherman's march into Atlanta and photographed what remained of the campaign. Fields and farmhouses still bore the scars of a bloody armed conflict that left thousands of people killed. The forced evacuation of Atlanta and subsequent declaration of marshall law were still very fresh current events. Civil society and the entire industrial infrastructure needed rebuilding. When Barnard attempted to record the landscapes of devastation, he also was confronted with the limits of his own medium. Photographic exposures rendered the skies completely white. Barnard's solution was to double print the photographs with previously shot images of skies and clouds. The results of this were a more painterly "real" representation of the battlefields. The photographs visually looked complete. They seemed to have witnessed the war though they are studio constructions.

Almost 140 years later, I retraced the same path into Atlanta on a search for histories and memories embedded in the landscape as well as remnants of the same campaign. This time however, I was limited not by technology or recording devices because I chose to paint the locations, but by the sheer amount of time and distance that history put between me and the conflict. Memory is all that is left. But what is a memory, the distant murmur of events long gone? I realized that a certain amount of amnesia is a prerequisite for memory. Things must be forgotten and almost discarded and then rediscovered. It is something like an old daguerreotype, a picture and an object and a process. The image is a process; growing and developing and even "curing" over time. The things that conservators agonize over is exactly what I embrace. The aura that a tarnished and scratched monochromatic picture gives off adds to its reality. The faded absence becomes a presence; incompleteness makes something real. (This might seem contradictory in a modern commercial world; how could one get more out of less?) Within this space (of unknowing or mysteriousness) the image is conceived and a story is retold in the layered patina. This is where it takes on its power and presence and its soul. Someone was here before and walked (walks) through our lives changing things forever. But this glimpse is at first very subtle and almost imperceptible, easily missed, it must be studied several times before it can be perceived. Some of these pictures are familiar and appear to be my own and some seem to be ours, or depositories of our collective myths. This is what we live by and what I revisit and I misplace and hope to rediscover endlessly.

- Don Pollack