Cart Search
submit Remember my login

2020 SPE Annual Conference: Hosted by The University of Houston | Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts | School of Art

Looking for a chapter event?

Past SPE Annual Conferences

Ben Davis

SPE Member since 2011
Member Chapter: South Central


When I began documenting antebellum plantation homes in East Texas, I set about the task with great enthusiasm filled with anticipation to explore the exotic mysteries of Southern culture. Little did I know then that excitement was hardly the appropriate emotion. I felt compelled to explore this work after spending time among friends in an African American congregation in Jasper Texas. My own family history in the region seemed to be very well documented and I wanted to know more about the people whose hospitality I had been enjoying for several years. Careful study of a region rife with racial tension lead me to question my own heritage in the context of these friends. The South seems to be wrought with dualities that make its experience cursed and exotic in the same breath. Imbued with the long unremitting memory of loss, and attempting to forget, which is at the same time a cycle of remembering. Shelby Foote once wrote, "all Southerners who express themselves in art... are very much aware that they are party to a defeat." The plantation home has long been the emblem of Southern identity. William Christenberry turned his gaze away from the grand plantation homes of Alabama to celebrate the vernacular and in so doing elevated common buildings as symbols and monuments to his personal memory. I have decided to explore what can be learned from looking directly at plantation homes to better understand the complex relationships that took place within these ordered spatial arrangements. I am interested in the social experience of architecture and what the built environment can reveal about stratified social arrangements. Plantations were complex self-sustaining entities designed for the sole purpose of producing agricultural products, we also know that the success of these operations depended exclusively upon slave labor. That these monuments of Southern memory have become symbols of an inglorious past is well justified, but I believe it is worthwhile to deconstruct these sites so that we may understand the legacy of spatial arrangements in communities today. I also see these properties as a connection point for descendants to excavate a nearly traceless past. In a contemporary context these images are my attempt to measure continuity and change in East Texas communities by using the plantation site as a point of reference for social order. These photographs are also in one sense my own quiet moments of contemplation. Looking back, several generations removed, wondering what pressures might I have faced to conform had I lived in mid 19th century Texas. To explore this question I have researched the original inhabitants of the properties in the U.S. Federal census of 1860. This exercise led me to realize the namelessness of slaves in written history. The extent to which these people existed in written records is thin to the point of invisibility. I believe that this theme of invisibility is still prevalent today in the way plantation sites are stewarded.

McCauley Plantation, San Augustine Texas



Plantation Home; San Augustine, Texas

Mathews Plantation; San Augustine, Texas

Col. F.B. Sexton Plantation; San Augustine, Texas

Milton Garrett Plantation; San Augustine, Texas


S.W. Blount Plantation; San Augustine, Texas

Loblolly Pines

Black Angus


Saddle Notch

Eddings House

Sublett Plantation

Henry's grave, Mimosa Hall Plantation

Columbus Cartwright House, San Augustine Texas

Polk-Sharp Outbuilding

Porch Beam, Inlow Mathews House

Porch Beams, F.B. Sexton Plantation

William Garrett Plantation

Email Sign Up

SPE email updates contain resources, news, and more!

About this piece

Comments about this piece

Dialogue and critique are important to the SPE mission.
Please join the conversation.

Exit Full Screen Mode