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In the context of gradual but steady rise of agribusiness, coupled with the ongoing effects of desegregation, the loss of small, family-owned and run farms, and the century-long exodus of rural populations to urban centers, farming communities have been suffering a slow and painful decline for decades. Loss of jobs, economically shattered families, failed businesses, de-population, and a general malaise of perceived worthlessness are common features of conversations that run through many small towns in the United States.
Intrigued by the continuing disappearance of rural towns in America, Brazilian born photographer Alex Leme spent two years capturing the silent mood of Cotton Plant, a small town of 650 nestled in the rural northeast portion of Arkansas, between Little Rock and Memphis, Tennessee. Despite its rich history and the “promising” nature of its past, Cotton Plant has suffered the same challenges and consequences as many other small rural towns. What once was a relatively thriving center and one of the fastest growing communities in Eastern Arkansas, is now a town littered with ghost factories, abandoned schools, and the carcasses of crumbling buildings while the handful of the remaining local stores struggle to survive. The sense of purpose that once accompanied steady, meaningful work has long since vanished.
Today the small town atmosphere with its slow pace and tightly knit communities, which so much defined rural America, is strongly undermined by growing isolation and forced idleness. Leme’s images of Cotton Plant landscapes and people subtly convey a nearly threatening stillness and quietly question the future of a forgotten America.