The Rice Culture
ART - PHOTOGRAPHY
David Soliday grew up in the Berkshire foothills where, at a very early age, he recognized his heart was meant to tell stories with imagery and words. A two-year employment as an expedition mechanic took him to far reaches of the world; the experience led him to a degree from Amherst College in Cultural Anthropology– a discipline pertinent to his current project – celebrating the cultural legacy of the largely overshadowed agricultural empire of Carolina Gold Rice (1670 – circa 1880) and the enslaved Africans, the Gullah, whose African-based technology made the enterprise so successful.
Soliday moved to the Carolina Lowcountry in 1978 soon after college. The Lowcountry “fit” well and quite quickly he was photographing and writing about birds for the likes of National Wildlife, GEO, and National Geographic. His living was supplemented by taking his nature and landscape “eye” to the advertising world – mostly resort-development projects and producing signature “golf landscapes.”
His interest in the Lowcountry’s Gullah Culture was immediate – his feeling that rice’s regionally celebrated “history” was based primarily on planters’ biased accounts. New evidence of a far greater African contribution was seeping from academia – important information for the nation to know.
The “looking glass” he uses to tell this story is compelling imagery taken from above – the only perspective that reveals the immensity of the earth’s surface being removed and re-sculpted to grow rice – by shovel alone. One hundred fifty six thousand acres of restructured earth dominates every coastal river system from Northern Florida into North Carolina. The construction statistics of these fields compare to “Wonders of the World” – typically, The Pyramids.
The project documents the perishing vestiges of rice dikes, canals, and ditches – once so formidable and so deeply carved into the earth by enslaved Africans. This landscape is monumental –symbolic and testimonial to Human capabilities, to an era of U.S. history - and to a people whose contributions are not fully recognized.
Soliday’s photographic documentation will become increasingly valuable as the story of rice unfolds. The wealth and stimulus that the world-renowned “Gold Rice” created is responsible for many foundations of our nation. So much of mainstream American culture and lifestyle including food, music, and dance are influenced by the Gullah culture. “Rice” is also a new story of African Contribution. Soliday’s case that the South should not be known as “The Land of Cotton” has merit. “Rice” is a valuable story to be recognized in these times.
His major exhibition, “Remnants of The Rice Culture” – Agricultural History as Art, premièred during the summer of 2015 in Charleston, and has since been in Myrtle Beach and Pawley’s Island. A showing through March, 2017, has just opened in Beaufort at the Historic Beaufort Foundation. The most exciting event & tribute is that The Smithsonian honors Soliday’s work by its inclusion as permanent installation at its new Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. Educational programs and books are to follow.
David Soliday’s most recent exhibition was dedicated to his son, David Shriver Soliday IV, who took his own life in 2014, at age 17, after sustaining his third severe concussion. The photographer hopes that sharing the family’s personal tragedy will help others understand the effects of concussions.
His magical photographs can be enjoyed at his website, DavidSoliday.com. His work is available for purchase on the site.