Growing up on a farm in Western Maryland, I have memories of my grandparents driving me to elementary school and passing a cross cluster at the end of a field, right after crossing the railroad tracks. Another cluster existed behind a church a little less than three miles from my mother’s house. As I grew old enough to drive, I remember finding more clusters further away from my hometown; alongside I-68 near Frostburg, and eastern towards Mt. Airy. When I moved to the city of Baltimore for college, I found myself missing the landscape of rural areas, and in fall of 2018, I began photographing these cross clusters, starting with ones located in Maryland, and then moving to the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, capturing ten clusters in all.
While Coffindaffer’s structures were built to remind people of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, I believe that today, they have both positive and negative connotations. They can function to inspire viewers due to the passion and consistency of one man to complete such an extensive task. However, while some may view them in the landscape as beautiful, there is undeniable violent imagery associated historically with wooden crosses in an empty field.
I strongly feel that exposing this history photographically is important to capture crosses that may soon be removed or in disrepair, and to have a recent, up to date archival system of the structures for this generation and the next. Furthermore, I also believe these structures are more political than they first lead on, and I aim to examine how viewers in the present year react to the imagery versus those in the 1980s.
The ten photographs I completed are just scratching the surface of the number of cross clusters across the United States. I am seeking sponsorship to pursue this project further, and photograph in the remainder of West Virginia and begin in Ohio. The route I have planned contains over thirty clusters and could be expanded to many other states within the Northeast and Midwest.