Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Living History: Marcus Kesler Exploring Oklahoma’s Past and Present.

Guest Author: Jennifer Barron
Marcus Kesler, Back To The Future, Photography, 20x30, 2009
All that remains of the town of Eudora, Oklahoma is a cemetery. “Having to photograph that was pretty interesting, based on how old the gravestones were,” said Marcus Kesler. One that particularly caught Kesler’s interest was the headstone of a sergeant in the 34th infantry. Originally from South Carolina, he had fought in the Civil War and later, had relocated to this town in Blaine County, Oklahoma. The few details available to Kesler created a picture of a restless life, and he reflected: “It made me wonder if he ever found what he was looking for.”

Eudora was one of over fifty of Oklahoma’s all-black towns, founded in a period between 1865 and 1920, a product of the brief hope that Oklahoma might become an African-American state. There were more all-black towns in Oklahoma than in all other states combined.

Kesler’s project for Momentum Spotlight explores this part of Oklahoma history by visiting and taking photographs in each of these towns, which, today range from nonexistent to well-populated. Towns like Langston- home to Langston University- and Boley- notable for its annual all-black rodeo- are still thriving today.
Marcus Kesler, The Road Runner, Photography, 20x30, 2009
While visiting these towns, Kesler tries to spend enough time to get a sense of the town’s former life: “I try to get a mental picture of what this place may have been during its heyday, and how people used each location.” The evidence of past lives- families, businesses, people- is particularly interesting to Kesler. “A lot of times,” he explains, “you’ll find abandoned houses with furniture still left. I wonder: Did somebody die? Did somebody leave? What happened to leave the scene this way?”

“Other times you might find a child’s toy left in the middle of a room. In the past, toys were important and a child might have only had one or two... Whatever happened, it happened so quickly that they left toy behind.”

After encountering several of these abandoned locations, Kesler is somewhat philosophical about the stories held by the buildings he photographs: “In some way, I wonder- do buildings or objects have residual emotions/ memories?”

Even Eudora, whose only evidence is its cemetery, is a presence still felt. “People visit the cemetery,” Kesler states, “Even though nothing is left of the town, people come back and lay flowers on gravestones.”

Kesler’s walk through Oklahoma’s past and present will be on display at Momentum, Oklahoma City on March 9 and 10.

No comments: