Homesweet ©Keith Dannemiller


In a search for support for my photography projects, I came across the Eyes on Main Street residency in Wilson, NC. I immediately thought that it would be an opportunity to expand the work I had been doing throughout my career on migration. It presented the possibility and challenge of a photography project in the US, in the South and in a somewhat typical town there—something I had not done in over 30 years. All my focus on immigration had been in Latin America, so this was a way of looking at the theme from a different angle and perspective.

It had been over 30 years since I lived in the US and something like 45 since I had been in North Carolina. My viewpoint, my way of relating to the world my entire life, had changed in some very visible ways and in other ways that I probably wasn’t, and am still not, fully aware of. So, to go back to Wilson North Carolina, to live there for a month by myself, was an abrupt change that required some adjustments.

It was as if I’d become a foreigner in my own country. But it was not all bad. Some of the shock was positive. In a certain sense, I could empathize with the same feeling of disorientation and deracination many migrants feel on arrival in the US. Also, I was going from an urban megalopolis of 23 million to a town of 45,000. I quickly had to make some changes from the way I normally work. There are a few less people on the streets of Wilson than there are on those of Mexico City. Walking around and expecting to run into people on the streets and be able to make my style of ‘street photography’ happen was just not possible. My approach became more documentary oriented, for example, looking very specifically for events, people and even landscapes that would lead to a visual profile of the town, and not rely on the serendipitous spontaneity of the street.


I knew there was a significant Latino population (10%) in the area of the city and the county of Wilson. I was very interested in exploring how the Hispanic migration to this wholly Southern town, with all the baggage of tradition, the vestiges of slavery and a one-crop (tobacco) agricultural economy would affect the social structure and community relations. I did a lot of research and read about the migratory phenomenon from Mexico to the region.

If I wanted to look at the migratory phenomenon in Wilson, I realized, it would be necessary to photograph all segments of the community—white, black, rich, poor and so on—to show how the collective community identity changed or didn’t. I walked, rode buses, talked to people, read the local paper and basically asked to photograph anywhere and everywhere. In people’s homes. In churches. In community centers. In schools. It was an intense time both photographically and personally.

A lot of the notions I brought with me to Wilson and the South after so many years were either modified or changed completely. I should have suspected that the South is a much more complex, fascinating place than I ever remembered or imagined. And Wilson served as a beautiful reflection of all its current-day problems, changes and potential.

If one deals with the theme of migration, as I have, you also deal a priori with the related themes of ‘homeland’ and ‘home’. They are the natural thematic extensions of my work during the Palestinian Intifada; the Guatemalan diaspora in the eighties and nineties to refugee camps in Chiapas, Mexico; the movement through Mexico of Central Americans fleeing poverty, climate change and violence in their home countries; forced displacement because of cartel violence in Guerrero, Mexico and the ‘Juarochos’ who returned to Veracruz state from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua because of the same drug violence.

All of these projects have carried the underlying themes of ‘home’, ‘belonging’ and ‘identity’. So it was somewhat of a no-brainer, a natural progression before I went to Wilson, to have those themes operative in the work I knew I wanted to do there. Almost all the Mexicans I have met in Wilson are cognizant of the struggle, personal and collective, they face every day of their existence in the US. Wilson is not where they were born. Is it their ‘home’? Is the US their ‘homeland’/‘patria’? Is it possible to have two ‘patrias’? The title of the work and subsequent expositions “Homesweet, Homeland” seemed to have fallen from the sky.
One facet of my work in Wilson attempts to look at and answer these questions. Another has to do with the changing make-up of the Wilson community, and how that changes the existing power, class and social dynamics for those who are residents of the place. The other side of the immigration coin, if you will.

Keith Dannemiller was selected as the artist-in-residence for the month of December 2017 in conjunction with the Eyes on Main Street Photography Festival in Wilson, North Carolina. He returned for the fourth time in July of 2021 to continue work on the ehibit planned for March 2021 at Barton College. Fourth of July fireworks at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.


Another thing I learned after numerous trips to photograph in Wilson is that this is my story, too. What I am focusing on there is obviously an attempt to look inward and explain my life to myself. I was born in Ohio, but do not consider that my ‘home’. I wouldn’t know where to go back to. I live now in Mexico, which IS my home. My family is here. My friends are here. My heart is here. This is where I feel I belong. Nevertheless, my ‘homeland’— the US—also remains in my heart. The ties will never be cut. And while I know I will never ‘be’ a Mexican, my attachment to Mexico is strong. I have also come to believe that maybe ‘home’ does not have to do with a fixed geographic place. It can be carried in one’s heart, ready to be planted wherever, if necessary.

Who I am now has been shaped by the time I have lived in Mexico. While working on the Wilson project with the themes of migration, home, homeland, belonging and identity I have enjoyed being able to simultaneously integrate my binational dilemma, as it were, into the broader questions, answers and themes of the project. It has been the most important station on my journey. What I am searching for and finding in the personal stories from Wilson has helped me to more clearly define my own identity as a man with two countries, two homelands.


Keith Dannemiller was born in Akron, Ohio on May 27, 1949, and educated there in Catholic elementary and high schools. He graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee with a B.A. in Organic Chemistry. In 1976, after four years in San Francisco, he moved to Austin, Texas where he photographed for The Texas Observer, Third Coast and Texas Monthly. While living there, he began the first of many trips to the north of México, in the area around Espinazo, Nuevo Leon, where he documented the festival of the Niño Fidencio, a folk saint renowned in México during the 1920’s. In 1987 he decided to live and work in México. A relationship that began with the Mexican photo agency Imagenlatina in May, 1987, resulted in two trips to the Middle East (1988 and 1989) to cover the Palestinian Intifada.

While currently independent, during the past 31 years he was associated at different times with two US photo agencies: Black Star and Saba. In Latin America, he has covered a wide variety of situations, ranging from Nicaraguan Recontras to street children in México City to life on the US-México border.

A recurring theme in his personal work is the effect on the country’s rich traditions while Mexican society constantly reshapes itself. Visual projects that have captured his interest include: a fundamentalist sect that uses exorcism to deal with social problems; portraits from the streets of Mexico City’s Centro Historico; Danzón in public parks; the modern syncretic rituals associated with the growing cult to the Catholic saint, Jude Thaddeus; the struggles of Central American migrants in Mexico enroute to the United States; and currently, investigating the notion of ‘Home/Homeland’ by documenting the lives of the people who make up the immigrant communities of Wilson, North Carolina, USA. His most recent book, Callegrafía, is a look at the intimate strangers who move through the streets of the Centro Histórico of Mexico City each day.

He lives with his wife in the Colonia Nápoles of Mexico City.

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