Monday, March 28, 2016

Brant Barrett

As a youth, Brant Barrett spent untold hours fishing, swimming and crabbing in the warm waters of St. Helena’s Sound near Beaufort, South Carolina. Those early years instilled in him a life-long love of nature and the South Carolina Lowcountry. As he grew older, Brant discovered the importance of history and how it gives context to, and a deeper understanding of our current circumstances.

All of Brant’s work connects the viewer to a place and time and explores today’s complex society through his visual interpretation of the natural world and mankind’s relationship to it.

Statement: Bright Leaf

For a number of years, my home has been the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, loosely defined by the watershed of the Great Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee rivers. The Pee Dee is predominately an agricultural region. Farming in this area means corn, soy beans, cotton and tobacco. “Bright Leaf” or flue-cured tobacco, had for over a hundred years meant more to the region than all the other crops combined.

After the Civil War, cotton languished for lack of a market and an insufficient labor force. During those times when “King Cotton” was laid low, tobacco became the savior of the Pee Dee. Tobacco provided the small family farmer, with limited land and limited resources, the means to pay off his debts and even prosper on the proceeds from a few acres.

Today, the regions ubiquitous tobacco barns lie empty and rotting. The warehouses that were the centerpieces of a town’s success are gone or being demolished as safety hazards. Main Street in the Pee Dee has been replaced by the “big box” store.

Still, there are a few farmers planting tobacco. In this series I have chosen to document their labors because tobacco has been so important to the people and the history of this region. The work shows current methods of cultivation, which are far different from methods employed even 50 years ago.

Bright Leaf will never return as a mainstay of the Pee Dee economy, but it still resonates through the soul of the region.

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