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Behind the Lens

The Hidden South's Brent Walker Talks Southern Stories & Creative Ambitions



There is nothing like having a story to tell and no way to tell it. Many of us often take to social media, to our miles long “friend” list, to tell the world of our woes. While it may be true that every person has a tale to tell, many people in this country often find themselves without a platform to express it, due to a number of circumstances.

 

Brent Walker, the creative force behind The Hidden South, has done just that. He has taken the stories of individuals who might have never been able to tell them otherwise, and gives them that platform to stand tall from, all while allowing them to be exactly who they are. NoDef had a chance to sit down with the artist to learn a bit more about the project, as well as give Walker the chance to tell his own story. 

 

Started in 2014, The Hidden South is an ongoing project that documents intimate stories of people throughout the Southeastern United States in photo essay format. Just a year after its launch, supporters of the project helped to fund the first book, Hidden South – Come Home, raising over $25,000 on Kickstarter. The success of the campaign enabled Walker to travel around the country documenting the lives of undersung Americans and publish the book in early 2016. 

 

 

 

“[The Hidden South] began on a personal Facebook,” said Walker. “Producing a physical book changed everything and enabled me to continue the project.” The rapidly growing following for the photo journal has given Walker the opportunity to document the stories of over 150 people in the region, from the bayous of Louisiana to the Kentucky coal country.  

 

A project like this one is often the kind that leaves a lasting change in a person — whether they are the creator, a participant, or the consumer reading the stories and looking at the photographs. There is such importance in connection, in community, and in having hope. Walker sees firsthand the lack of optimism that can exist in the lives of people that are struggling, and insists that we need to better address the issues of poverty and addiction in our country.

 

In regards to his selection process for who to feature, Walker has learned to rely on his intuition. “There’s not science to it,” he stated. “I look for people with a story.” Two notes he did mention are that he does not approach groups of young men or people who look like they have something to prove. 

 

The project, which demands Walker to get strangers to open up about personal struggles and intimate details of their lives to be shared with the world, has greatly increased his confidence in talking to just about anyone. His work has also made him a better listener as a whole — which is integral to successfully communicating peoples’ lives on their behalf. 

 

 

 

While Walker’s project often focuses on very heavy issues such as opioid addiction, poverty, heartbreak, among others, there are the occasional stories of hope and triumph as well. As the project continues, Walker plans to put together The Hidden South 2, which will focus more on the LGBT community in the South, as well as on individuals in recovery on the other side of the stories they may have told in the first volume, illustrating how they have overcome addiction.

 

Since the first volume’s release, Walker has traveled around the country to various festivals such as Art Basel in Miami, selling his book, sharing secrets, and gathering even more tales to tell the world. While he may not have always known exactly how he was going to fund his travel, he has found his way to the Big Easy and is now spending time selling his book to people all over the world, right from the French Quarter.

 

The advice he would give to those thinking of pursuing an art project full time as he did is simple is simple and sweet: “If you get up everyday and do the work, your parachute will open.”

 

Walker hopes that his work will cause people to gain a greater empathy for strangers, and that they take action through their empathy. We’d be inclined to agree. You can find the first volume of The Hidden South, social media links, and more information about the project here

 

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

Photographers


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.

Editor


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

Published Daily