It seems nature and nurture both played a role in the creative world of Lisa McCord. The fine art and documentary photographer from Fayetteville, Arkansas has been recording her life at her family’s cotton farm for more than 40 years.
“My hope is to celebrate and honor the community I love,” she said.
McCord got her start when her stepfather, a painter who later made the switch to photography, was accepted to Cranbrook Academy of Art in the early ‘70s when she attended Cranbrook Kingswood High School. She remains grateful for her education and still stays in touch with some alumni.
When her mother and stepfather divorced, McCord remained at Kingswood. “I was there for four years, two as a day student and two as a boarding student,” she said. “At school, the day students hung out together and the boarding students did the same, so I got to know both cross-sections.”
During that time, she received her first camera and would not have to look far for inspirational subjects or backdrops. “It’s a beautiful campus,” said McCord, who photographed some Kingswood girls wearing opaque masks to demonstrate they were different, but the same. “We all wear masks,” she said.
She was also a dancer, which led to a trip to Portugal during high school. “That was my first time in Europe, where I later lived and it just changed my life,” said McCord.
For the last 32 years she has lived in Los Angeles, but moved 23 times, starting with her mother who was a painter.
After Cranbrook, McCord would go on to earn her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and an MFA from California Institute of the Arts. She also attended New York University, Le Contrejour, Paris and The Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York. In addition, McCord taught photography at high schools and colleges, including Pepperdine University.
“I grew up in the arts,” said McCord, who is in the process of getting a book published. She especially loves black and white photos and prefers working in the dark room to getting messy with paint.
Although her color work is digital, McCord still prefers film for black and white images. “I’m old school,” she said. Her work has appeared in many museums and is in the permanent collections of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
Her passion for people shows in her photos. “I love the rapport between the subject and myself and the environment,” she said. “I’m also an avid photography collector with 24 photos in my hall alone that include my work and other people’s work, and my mother’s paintings.”
Her work includes a series that explores the iconic poolside culture in Southern California. “I like to photograph my world,” she said. “Everyone’s happy at the pool.”
As for her grandparents’ farm in Fayetteville, a lot of people she knew and loved have passed away and only three are now employed there. “My photography records stories that include other people’s opinions and ideas of the farm, not just my point of view,” said McCord, who finds the systemic oppression deeply troubling. “I take responsibility as a White photographer and the granddaughter of a farm owner.”
Though her images are complicated when seen in the context of the social and economic structures of the rural South, they do spark conversations that could lead to change. “There is a racial and economic dynamic that is present in my work,” she said. “It’s always good to ask questions, even if we don’t always know the answers.”
Go to lisamccordphotography.com
Story: Jeanine Matlow
Photo: Lisa McCord