Victory of the Commons


Roshen Sethna
Digital Documentary Photography
December 2008

Fall 2008“Victory of the Commons” is a piece about North Carolina’s diverse local food and greenery community. Weaving together stories from different people’s lives, the piece speaks to how a relationship with the land can be personal, communal, and innovative. It speaks to land as a common space. And, lets face it, we all know about the “tragedy of the commons,” where self-interest can destroy a shared resource. While traveling around the state, I found quite the opposite. I found a victory of the commons: people working to care for and learn more about their environment.

Pieces about the Durham Farmer’s Market, Piedmont Biofuels, the Herb Walk, the Crop Mob, and Strouse’s backyard collectively tell the story of a very granola community. And a dip back into the past reminds us that land use has often not been (and still isn’t) a fair process. Race, gender, immigration status, and age are all connected to the land. Fair food is as important as healthy food. One group that is working towards fair food is FLO (Fair, Local, Organic) Food, a student group at UNC-Chapel Hill. A few pictures from one of their events on campus is included in the piece and FLO Food’s efforts really speak to how this movement is bringing in sizable efforts from young people.

There are several issues within the food community ranging from land acquisition and price to race and gender. This piece is not about the issues. It is about how land can bring people together and, at times, offer a type of peace we don’t encounter in our daily lives.

I shot this piece over about 8 trips and 3 months, producing more than 650 photographs. As someone who is personally interested in living sustainably and building local communities, I learned quite a bit from the individuals I photographed. Thanks to the dozens of friends and community members who guided me.