After moving from the suburbs of Baltimore in 2014 to pursue a BFA in Photography at VCUarts, Richmond, Virginia became a shelter to take refuge in as I faced leaving my childhood home for the first time. In this unfamiliar Southern city, once the capital of the Confederacy and a chair of Southern aristocracy, I found myself as an 18-year-old closeted queer man, looking to mature into a working artist and begin to know myself truly along the way.

      Through the search to find my place in the world over the past nine years, Richmond has been watching over me like a silent guardian. Though one state over from where I grew up, the cultural differences between the gem of the Mid-Atlantic and the gateway to the South couldn't be more varied. And a city alive with its own history, everything in Richmond brushes the threshold of the contemporary and the historic. From the wafts of gardenias, magnolias, and night-blooming tobacco, the remnants of the Counterculture scene that exploded in the 1960s at VCU's formation, and the James River in the summer — to phantom soldiers on midnight strolls, downtown streets turned Hollywood sets at golden hour, forgotten rooms down flocked wallpaper hallways, and a contemporary reckoning with Lost Cause ideology, Richmond has blossomed into a city that recognizes where it came from, with the passion to grow into something new. In all seasons, the city creates an almost indescribable magic that has made me the photographer and person I am today.

      As Benjamin Botkin states in A Treasury of Southern Folklore: “If at times…the immortals of Southern history seem to lack folklore appeal, that is because the folk stories have died with the people that told them or because the biographers have been more interested in erecting a marble monument than in portraying a flesh-and-blood creature.”

      In my ongoing photographic series, To Cultivate A Magnolia, I present my life in Richmond over the past nine years as that flesh-and-blood creature, along with the chosen family I’ve found, and the generations of Virginians before me — whose legacies live on as the silent witnesses. Referencing the hardiness of its leaves in tandem with the delicacy of its flowers, To Cultivate A Magnolia examines the folklore and history of Richmond and greater Virginia, the complexities of queer identity, the endurance of the American Civil War, and the moments of reflection that come as we age.

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