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Photography

Powerful Portraits Capture When Home No Longer Feels Like Home

Rachael Banks' three-part photo series reveals the struggles of coming back to her Kentucky family after leaving to start her own life.

by Andrew Nunes
03 August 2017, 12:35am

Images courtesy of the artist. 

Can you become a stranger to the place where you grew up and spent most of your life? Between Home and Here, an ongoing four-part photography series by Rachael Banks examines the artist's own alienation after leaving her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky for an MFA program, after living there all her life.

After working exclusively in self-portraits, Banks marks a visual and stylistic departure with her new series, but it's still ultimately a project that reflects upon her own identity and experience. Primarily consisting of portraiture of her family and friends in Kentucky, each subject seems to interrogate and confront the Banks behind the camera, becoming extensions of the artist's own insecurities and darker feelings inflicted by her hometown.

The series began three years ago, while Banks was pursuing an MFA at the Texas Woman's University. "When I moved to Texas, I had been married for about two weeks and suddenly I was back in school all over again and working towards a degree I wasn't 100% confident would help in giving me the future that I wanted for myself," she tells Creators.

"Throughout my life, I maintained the mentality that family comes first, and after the initial relief of feeling 'free' from everything I knew while in Texas, the guilt eventually found its way in. I felt like I had abandoned everyone I loved, especially my family. I was haunted by the notion that my siblings needed me and I left them to get an MFA," Banks explains.

To remedy her sense of guilt, Banks began traveling the 800-mile trip between Kentucky and Texas frequently; at times, every other week: "I started driving back to Kentucky to stay connected with my family and good friends, but mainly my younger brother and sister. I was interested in what their lives were like and how my home had both changed and stayed exactly the same. I was still in school so I felt like my visits back home had to be justified, so I brought my camera and photographed whoever I was seeing."

As the body of work continued through her frequent trips, it slowly started expanding into a multi-chapter exploration of identity: "The more I photographed others back home, the more comfortable they were and with that I was able to be more confrontational with my camera, both physically and emotionally," tells Banks. "In the beginning, the work reflected what I saw and my perception of them, but then it changed into their perception of me. Especially in Chapter II, I felt like my friends and family were looking back at me and further contemplating their relationship with me, as well as the experience that is being photographed."

If Chapter II of Between Home and Here is the apex of identity crisis and the loss of sense of home, her last and still ongoing Chapter III seems to portray something of a resolution. The same subjects that previously gazed at the camera almost maliciously now look to the horizon, with gazes frequently adverted from the camera. There a pronounced sense of calmness and melancholy in these images, as if there has been a coming-of-terms between the photographer and her subjects, that their shared upbringing and cultural identity should trump notions of alienation.

Banks seems to agree: "I lost a part of myself when I left Kentucky. Through photography and Between Home and Here, I found the missing piece of myself. My heart beats stronger when it's landlocked."

To check out Between Home and Here and more of Rachael Banks' photographic work, head over to her website, here.

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