They are the American pyramids, the work and art of Florida’s first peoples. For thousands of years before the Spanish came, early Americans living in Nature transformed it, building mounds with earth, shells and sand. These served as village gathering places, temples for religious ceremonies, and as burial sites. Native Americans continued to build here until roughly the mid-1700s, and many mounds remain. These heritage sites are living history, tracing the past, informing the present, limning the pathways between ancient times and our own.
This collaboration is based in our ongoing exploration of Florida mounds, their mysteries and multiple meanings. The title of our project echoes the beliefs of the Calusa people of Charlotte Harbor. To them each person had three souls: one’s shadow, one’s reflection, and a third in the center of the eye. We referenced those visual elements in an installation exhibited last year in St. Petersburg, a combination of images on reflective surfaces; photographs printed on paper and on large panels of transparent fabric; and interpretive texts projected on walls like diffused light in a forest.
In this folio, black and white photographs reveal the mounds as they are and as they once were, transporting the viewer to some in-between place. At once sharp and diffuse, the images suggest the mounds’ fragility and disintegration as well as their endurance.
The texts are another form of exploration, reverberating with the images. These vignettes illuminate the mounds as well as the ethos, the time, and the cultural framework that created them. As creative nonfiction, they also re-imagine history and the people who made it to create more layers of meaning, tracing the writer’s inner explorations and, ideally, leading readers to their own.
For visitors, the experience of these sacred sites is often mediated by framed displays or historic plaques. Historians and archaeologists have sifted through archives and artifacts, interpreting these earlier cultures with their analytic methods. Our collaborative project creates a contemporary, open-ended archive, offering and contextualizing fragments of the past.
[For more information and images, see flmoundsproject.com and suzannewilliamsonphoto.com.]