Natalie Keyssar is a documentary photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Natalie’s project, Heaven’s Back Yard, seeks to tell the story of a once-thriving agricultural and factory town in North Carolina, now one of the poorest counties in the nation. Natalie’s project will document and disrupt the narrative of rural youth violence, and explore what it means to grow up in this town from the inside and the outside. As well as document the effects of this town being hit by multiple hurricanes.
She is interested in class inequality, youth culture, and the personal effects of political turmoil and violence, primarily in the US and Latin America. She has a BFA in Painting and Illustration from The Pratt Institute.
Keyssar has contributed to publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Time, Bloomberg Business Week, and California Sunday Magazine and been awarded by organizations including the Philip Jones Griffith Award. The Aaron Siskind Foundation, PDN 30, Magenta Flash Forward, and American Photography. She has taught New Media at the International Center of Photography in New York and has instructed at various workshops across the US and Latin America with organizations such as Foundry, Women Photograph, The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the IWMF and International Photography Festival of Puebla, Mexico. She is a Pulitzer Center Grantee, a long-term fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation Latin America program, the winner of the 2018 ICP Infinity Emerging Photographer Award and the 2019 PH Museum Women Photographer’s Grant. She speaks fluent Spanish and is available for assignments internationally as well as teaching and speaking engagements.
Lumberton, North Carolina is the seat of one of the poorest counties in the nation. In 2016, it was catastrophically flooded due to Hurricane Matthew creating the first crop of people who fled their homes permanently, and left hundreds who were hanging on by a thread financially and physically as they prayed for FEMA aid and other donations to help them rebuild and suffered from systemic neglect. Just as the community finally began to recover, hurricane Florence hit, causing flooding in many of the exact same places and beyond. Now in the areas hardest hit by the flooding families are struggling to recover and grappling with the new reality of the rising waters and what it means for their home.
American cities, like Lumberton, were built to be close to water and industry. This intersection of river and rail, human and earth, is what created Lumberton. Now it threatens to destroy it.
This project began with a desire to take what I’ve learned about documentary photography and communication back home. To build connections between the two opposing worlds of my past and present.
Natalie’s project was to head back home and examine the relationship between land and its population. In her images, Natalie attempts to reframe the depictions of the poor and displaced in the south. She created a portrait studio in the community where residents were invited to come have their picture taken while sharing thoughts about their situation, their hopes for the future, their needs.