I miss Kentucky, always. I try to go there as often as I can, but mostly it’s just once or twice a year, crammed between New York City and family in Maine and family in Rhode Island. But to me, it’s home and will always be so.
October is my favorite time. The color palette of yellows and soft greens and browns from the various harvests, the smells of tobacco and a home’s first fire hangs in the air.… things are quiet and people are slowing down, putting things to bed.
I grew up outside of Louisville, but when visiting I always spend a few days in central Kentucky, which is magical. It’s fun to go to Keeneland or the Thoroughbred Club to experience the more polished side of Kentucky, but mostly it’s nice to just be in the country and not have to be anywhere other than with friends. The strict zoning laws surrounding Lexington have allowed the historic towns to survive and the farms to remain undisturbed and undeveloped. Midway, Athens and Versailles are among my favorites, all with quaint town centers and the sprawl of farms. Here, I have old friends who have adamantly stuck to the country life while many of us have moved on to cities, “big careers,” other lives. They choose to be here, live on family farms and cattle farms, and make a living through these farms or in the small towns nearby. My stepmother, Jane Gentry Vance, who is a professor and former Kentucky poet laureate, also lives here. She writes stories and poems about the affection she feels for Kentucky in her bones, both sensory and ancestral. She tells the young to leave, experience the world, and return to contribute to what raised us. Many do this, and Kentucky remains a rich place.
One of my oldest friends in the world, Frances Clay Conner, moved from Louisville to central Kentucky to live on her family’s farm. I was visiting in early winter, and the first snow came overnight. In the morning, I took a walk around the farm and spent some time inside this tobacco barn. Everything was finished for the year, awaiting spring.
And of course Louisville feels nice too, in a different way. The city is in the midst of a transformation – areas of downtown (which until a few years ago were dead zones) are experiencing a regeneration. New craft restaurants and bars, antique shops, galleries, coffee shops, record stores, and flea markets are flooding the area, happily reminding me of parts of Brooklyn. Creativity matters here, and the new urbanism is refreshing and makes me proud. But beyond Louisville’s downtown, Louisville and the surrounding area is my home. I get to drive down my favorite roads, visit the river and photograph my memories. I mentioned to my young nephew that even the light here feels different, the feel of an afternoon is different and makes me nostalgic just being in it. He didn’t understand, and talks about visiting New York to ride the subway and see the Yankees. I know that one day, perhaps after leaving, he'll understand how special it is.
To me, photography is about discovering and preserving a sense of place, and searching for a set of values alive in myself and in my memories — a simple way of living that feels humble and pure, always grounded in where you are. I often take road trips as an exercise to understand place and awaken these values, anywhere from the unfamiliar corners of Maine to the familiar reaches of the South.
And, of course, Kentucky.
I took my first solo road trip around the South a few years ago when I was moving cities in the Northeast and changing jobs - I just needed to feel grounded again. I flew home to Kentucky and drove all across Tennessee and Georgia, taking back roads the whole time to see what I could find. This photo was on the first day — I got out of the car near Rome and took a walk in this field filled with Georgia pines and the most beautiful light.
House in the pines, somewhere in Georgia.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
I was driving from D.C. to Roanoke, Va., for my sister-in-law’s wedding, and I decided to take the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. It was a hot day in the middle of summer, but the higher I got into the mountains, the cooler and foggier it became — so foggy that I had to pull over. It was breathtaking.
I have a great friend who went to Ole Miss and later moved to Boston. He took a group of us from Boston to Oxford one weekend to experience the town (and naturally the Ole Miss vs. Alabama football game). We flew into Memphis and spent a few hours checking out the town.
When we got to Oxford, we came across this cotton field in full bloom and an abandoned car. We pulled off the road and ended up spending the better part of an hour there. The light was perfect; all was quiet.
We paid a visit to Rowan Oak when we were in Oxford. I have an affection for William Faulkner — I really started reading Southern literature when I left and became interested in this idea of place, and how to communicate sense of place through art. The late afternoon light really brought the house alive.
Oxford, Miss. — Big Bad Breakfast
Brenda and Garrett
Brenda is from Eminence, Ky., and she has babysat my nephews for the past 16 years. She’s family. On the right is a portrait of my nephew, Garrett, taken in his backyard in the suburbs of Louisville. He was 12 at the time.
A few Novembers ago, I took a trip to Charleston with my family to visit my sister. It was my first time in the city, and I remember being in awe. My family is really into walks, knowing that it’s the single best way to take in a city, and most of these photos were taken on one of those walks. One of the days we drove to Beaufort, stopping at the Old Sheldon Church along the way.
The Goshen Store is the country store in my hometown outside of Louisville. My dad swore by their bologna sandwiches on white bread (“...just something special about it”). I would always get the country ham and a pack of Sixlets. I remember after I had been living in Boston and New York for many years, I stopped by and the owners still knew my order. It’s things like that make me feel relieved to be home.
New Orleans, La.
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the entire world. We drink bourbon and listen to jazz until our hearts bleed, always leaving a little bit of our hearts behind. It has more soul than anywhere I’ve been.
Nashville, Tenn. — Prince's Hot Chicken