Eliot Dudik earned a BA in art history and a BS in anthropology from the College of Charleston in South Carolina and an MFA in photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. He currently serves as Lecturer of Photography at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Dudik’s work has been published in Smithsonian magazine, the New York Times, and Oxford American magazine. His photographs are included in the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University, Durham, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Dudik first began photographing the South when he moved to Charleston, South Carolina in 2004, which led to the publication of his first book, Road Ends in Water, in 2010. For that work, he studied the places around U.S. Route 17, which traverses the South Carolina Lowcountry. First Snow in Twenty Years, Rosa Scott Road (2010), shows a field surrounded by trees and blanketed in a soft layer of snow. Everything is still and peaceful, but Dudik’s image indicates an earlier moment of raucous celebration of a rare Lowcountry snow with the tire tracks left on the land by a car driving joyful doughnut circles across the field. Alligator Alley, Oregon Road (2009), another work from the series, presents a telling window on a Southern swamp in fall. Speckled cypress tree trunks stand tall in dark, still water at the edge of a leaf-covered dirt road. At first glance, one may think Dudik has captured an alligator curving its body as it descends in the water near the center of the image. But this Alligator Alley is in fact populated by discarded tires, three of which can be seen emerging out of the water. Dudik’s image makes a subtle point: the South (and the Lowcountry in particular) has countless places of natural beauty that are increasingly spoiled by people.
Dudik has continued to focus on the South as his career has expanded, as he finds the region both intriguing and spiritually uplifting. Made between 2012 and 2016, his series Broken Land addresses sites of Civil War battles in twenty-four states. He embarked on the project with an interest in exploring the process of remembering after noticing the regularity with which Southerners discussed the Civil War. His hope was that exploring these battle sites might offer opportunities for reflection on the continuing legacy of the Civil War today. For the series, he used a large-format antique camera and preferred to shoot the locations on wintery, overcast, or rainy days to soften and equalize details. He avoids the grandiose, instead focusing on the heart of each scene. Dudik usually takes just one careful picture of each battlefield, then scans the negatives and prints his large digital images.
Falling Waters, West Virginia (2014) documents the site of a July 2, 1861, battle that took place after Virginians voted to secede. Photographed on an overcast, snowy day, the image shows a field of thistles capped with soft white balls of snow that resemble cotton standing on brown stalks across the foreground, echoing the colors of the landscape, and then abruptly shifts from the stalks in the foreground to the distant background of trees and sky. The middle ground of the photograph, the site of the actual battle, is thus largely obscured. Cotton—its cultivation before the Civil War dependent largely on slaves—is a profound symbol of the inequities that led to the war, and it serves as a reminder of the role of the land not only as a battlefield but also as a cause of the conflict. Dudik’s meditative images of the South quietly explore these complex relationships between people, the land, and memory.