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For my mom

In memory of my nana

I uprooted myself from my homeground and left Took my dreams and I took to the road When a flower grows wild, it can always survive Wildflowers don’t care where they grow

Dolly Parton, Wildflowers


I am from a place where leaving is betrayal. For all my life, my family has lived in a small town in Eastern Kentucky. This has been true for generations. It is a place of tradition, where families build houses next to each other and gather on Sunday for post-church dinners. Everybody knows everybody and nobody goes too far from home. In my girlhood, I didn’t dream of marriage or family as much as creating my own interesting life. I grew up happily, but with a map on my wall. This work was made the year leading up to my graduation from college. It is meant to be an examination of what I’m leaving behind, looking closely at my connection to my family and our connection to the land. This work is also a question mark as I examine the life I have, holding it up to the light of all that I want.


The cicadas are loud.

I grew up here.

I feel close to the summers of my childhood,.

I remember the warmth of adolescence.

I watch my sister learn to read.

I watch my brother learn to hunt.

I admire all my mom has created.

I feel this place in my bones.


The poplar’s leaves turn orange.

I feel safe.

But I dream of places I’ve never been.

My little sister gets married.

I wonder what is beyond these hills.


Snow covers everything.

I wonder if I am a good daughter.

I try to imagine a life here.

I can’t.

I look for jobs in other places.

I scroll through images of apartments in different cities.

My nana gets sick.


The dogwoods bloom.

We bury our matriach.

We grieve together.

We see life again.

I wonder what I will leave behind.

Nana and mom the day I was born

With Kentucky dirt on my tires, I’m bound for a city in another state. I leave with my grandma’s recipes saved on my phone, a t-shirt borrowed from my sister, snacks for the road from my mom. My stepdad makes sure my tires are okay. My grandpa gives me a map. I watch as the people I love wave from the porch. When I finally go, I do so knowing I am capable because of the people who raised me. I do so because of my mom and my nana, who have given me the courage to create my own beautiful life.

IMAGE LIST in order of appearance 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36.

COVER: Collage. April 8, 2020. Light hits a hanging sheet. April 4, 2020. My mom holds me, her fight daughter. February 24, 1997. Hollow near my home. March 26, 2020. Self-portrait in my sister’s bedroom. April 10, 2020. My mom watches my siblings play in the creek. April 4, 2020. Portrait of my sister Gabrielle. April 3, 2020. Portrait of my sister Gabrielle. October 3, 2019. My mom does homework with my sister Kaley. November 20, 2019. My brother Ray hunts with my stepdad. December 24, 2019. My mom cuts my brother Spencer’s hair. August 20, 2019. Photo of my mom, my sister, and me hanging on the wall in our living room. April 20, 2020. My brother in our dad’s truck. April 28, 2020. Hollow in autumn. January 4, 2020. Thanksgiving at Nana’s house. November 28, 2019. Flowers near my home. September 21, 2019. My brother Ray and me in our dad’s truck. April 28, 2020. My sister Faith and her husband Seth on their wedding day. September 15, 2018. Creek near our home. March 22, 2020. Self-portrait at home. March 28, 2020. My sister Kaley catches a snowflake on her tongue on the first snow of the year. November 12, 2019. Forsythia. March 22, 2020. My mom braids my hair in the floor of our bathroom. April 11, 2020. Self-portrait in a wedding dress at 22, the age my mom got married. January 17, 2020. My sister and her husband in their first home. May 3, 2020. My mom cuts my brother’s hair. March 29, 2020. My stepdad’s fire. April 11, 2020. My mom, nana, and uncle in a hospital room. March 17, 2020. Dogwoods bloom near our home. March 17, 2020. My mom and I get ready for my nana’s funeral. April 21, 2020. My nana’s burial. April 21, 2020. My mom and I after the funeral. April 21, 2020. A tangle of branches near our home. December 20, 2019. My sister Madison combs her hair. November 13, 2019. Self-portrait in my mom’s house. March 22, 2020. Daffodils on shattered glass. March 22, 2020.

BIO Morgan Hornsby (b. 1997) is a documentary photographer. She is a recent graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied photojournalism and history. She is currently working on a longterm project about her family and other works on the criminal justice system.

Profile for Morgan Hornsby

Before I Go  

Before I Go