It started with a disagreement between the photographer Wendy Young and a friend about Confederate monuments and whether or not they should be taken down. The conflict triggered an exploration into her beliefs, education, and roots in the American South. Young was raised in Pensacola, Florida, and recalls studying the Lost Cause myth in many history classes, which implanted a sense of righteousness surrounding the circumstances of the Civil War. The Lost Cause myth claims that during the Civil War, the South was fighting for the right to secede and for a “Southern way of life”—there is virtually no mention of slavery. Because this version of Civil War history persists in many areas of the South, there remain very mixed notions about what the Confederacy represents. In an effort to better understand or at least process the controversy surrounding the monuments, Young set out to photograph them and a “Southern way of life.”
The resulting images follow several threads: representations of the Confederacy (flags, monuments, place names), religious presence, and perhaps what could be described as signs of Southern pride. One aspect of the series which speaks loudly in this contemporary moment is the presence of guns. The Confederate statues appear as petrified sentinels, weapons drawn in an endless fight to protect their rights. An image of a billboard that states “God, Guns, and Guts Made America Free” is one of the many examples that show just how embedded guns are in the complicated history of the region.
Symbols play important roles in defining one’s identity, and in the South, the meanings of these symbols depend on what version of history one learned as a child. Guns, the Bible, and the Confederate flag all have varying connotations. What becomes clear in A Long and Slow Surrender is that it takes more than time to heal wounds: it depends on the stories we tell ourselves and our children.