Native Son: Joe Leavenworth

"Though he felt that he was cut off from them forever, he had a strange hankering for their presence. Like a man reborn, he wanted to test and taste each new thing now to see how it went."  

— Native Son, Richard Wright, 1940 

Native Son is an evolving body of work in which Joe Leavenworth attempts to address the mystery of his biological origins. Born in Georgia in 1985, he was adopted and raised away from the Southeastern American states. Over the past 3 years he has taken an annual trip to explore the landscape and people he has spent a life separated from; documenting the present as a way to visualise his imagined past.

Leavenworth’s images are slow and meandering, weaving their way through a disjointed narrative pieced together from chance encounters. Rich colours pop beneath a hazy drawl, structures buckle and rust accumulates under the weight of Southern humidity. The scenes are beautiful in their earnestness but uninviting; mirroring Leavenworth’s own disconnection from his birthplace. Weathered faces peer from behind car windows, turn away or avert their gaze, as if to make clear that both photographer and viewer are only spectators to this unfamiliar world.

Ultimately, Native Son is a process of searching in a landscape Leavenworth has an abstract connection to but no real place in. Luckily for us, however, is that although Leavenworth’s pictures clearly posit him as an outsider, his sense of image making is very much at home.


Visit Joe's website for more of his work at

— Holly Lucas