Virginia-based photographer Matt Eich received a BS in photojournalism from Ohio University in Athens and an MFA in photography from the University of Hartford in Connecticut. His first book, Carry Me Ohio, was published in 2016, followed in 2017 by his second book, I Love You, I’m Leaving. Eich’s many commercial and editorial clients include Apple, TIME, and The Wall Street Journal. His photography has been supported by funding from National Geographic and Getty Images and is in the permanent collections of the Portland Art Museum, Oregon; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the New York Public Library, New York.
In his work Eich uses photography as an anchor in a changing world—in which political values, hard-fought consensus on issues such as race and class, and notions of truth itself are under attack—as a way of creating a record of who we are. His approach involves extended photographic essays, and his photographs in Southbound, taken in places from Virginia to Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, are all drawn from the component parts of a larger project titled The Invisible Yoke.
Many of Eich’s images are explorations of places that, while not yet completely fractured, are certainly on challenging trajectories. If American itself is, as he fears, in “dissolution,” then that process, if not begun by George W. Bush’s misguided decision to embark on a war of choice in Iraq in 2003, certainly moved into higher gear at that time. Homecoming Kiss (2009), found on the Southbound website, pictures an interracial couple, presumably reunited after a deployment at sea, at a navy base in Norfolk, some forty years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Loving v. Virginia decision overturning anti-miscegenation laws. This photograph underscores the cost of the war on terror in the prosthetic limbs of the young man pictured there. That the burden of war-making is borne disproportionately by a sliver of the American population, in the age of the all-volunteer armed services, reinforces Eich’s foreboding at the direction his country is taking.
The tension within Eich’s photographs in Southbound is telling. In another image from Virginia, Fire Hose Baptism (2013), we see African American Christians sparkling in their starched white clothes as they are washed in the blood of the lamb in a baptism ceremony on a street in Newport News. Their ceremony contrasts powerfully with the profession of faith in a Birmingham church in a photograph titled Megachurch (2015). There may be African Americans in that sanctuary, but the congregation, like the preacher projected on the mammoth screens that flank the stage there, is overwhelmingly white. The setting, moreover, could not be further removed from the Virginia streetscape. Here, it’s all screens: on and behind the stage proper, on the walls, and everywhere, in the shape of monitors large and small, in the control booth that dominates the foreground. The darkened auditorium, the better to see the spectacle on so many screens, serves as a foil against which the light pulsing from the African American worshippers is dazzling. These and others of Eich’s photographs in Southbound open windows onto places that showcase lines of fracture between black and white, rich and poor, and old and new in the twenty-first century South.