Cocoa Laney (b. 1994) is an American documentary photographer currently based in the UK whose work explores issues of identity, feminism, and religion. She holds an MA in documentary photography and photojournalism from London College of Communication and is the recipient of the 2019 Royal Photographic Society postgraduate bursary award. Her work has been shown internationally and featured in publications such as The British Journal of Photography, LensCulture, and The Independent.
During the summer of 2019, I visited fifteen different towns while meeting young women and non-binary people, many of whom invited me to sleep in their homes. Through conversations about shame, religion, and gender identity, the trip became a pilgrimage to find intimacy and connection in a region that can feel simultaneously familiar and inaccessible, even to those who know it best. Moreover, as Alabama continues to make headlines in regards to women’s rights in the age of Trump, I am interested in exploring how the new generation of Southerners reconcile their relationship with the state and navigate the contradictions and extremes inherent to Southern identity. These contradictions are especially apparent in the archetype of the idealized Southern woman, who is often expected to be resilient yet obedient and demure in her strength. As the trip progressed, each participant in the project wrote a letter to the anonymous woman I would meet on my next stop, sharing stories and creating a network of encouragement among strangers. The resulting work explores the nuances of contemporary Southerness with a diverse array of young people, giving an intimate view of life in present-day Alabama from a female perspective. Beyond this, it marks my own attempt to come to terms with the place I still call home.
To view more of Cocoa’s work please visit her website.