November 27, 2020

“The Dead Don’t Vote in Alexander County”

May Gallery features Illinois County

"The Dead Don't Vote in Alexander County" features photos of the people of Alexander County in Illinois. PHOTO BY MAX BOUVATTE

By Morgan Stache

The faces and places of Alexander County, Ill., tell stories few people outside of county lines have ever heard. The stories of the southern city, are shared in the new May Gallery exhibit “The Dead Don’t Vote in Alexander County.”

Dan Overturf, the photographer featured in the exhibit, credits the title of the exhibit to Francis Lee, the Alexander county clerk. He explained she has been working through the challenges of working as an official in Cairo, Ill.

“(Francis) came under scrutiny about how many deceased people were on the voting roles in Alexander County. She was newly elected and had not had a chance to do the thorough purging and make sure there are no deceased people on the roles,” Overturf said. “It’s a rather incredible project. Her response to questions about people on the voting roles being deceased was, ‘There are no dead people voting in Alexander County.’ We kind of latched on to that.”

The exhibit is a collection of 48 photographs all taken in the Illinois county. Captions are paired with certain photos, which tell brief stories about the people in the photo.

The exhibit features the photos of Dan Overturf and writer Gary Marx.

“We went down to Alexander County occasionally together, but most of the time we were alone. We have twice as much, and slightly different, curiosities that way,” Overturf said. “The whole idea of having a collaboration between a photographer and a writer is a very important thing to note. There are really famous collaborations that served as examples for us.”

Marx explained that he was attracted to Cairo, a city in Alexander County, because it is the point of convergence for the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. After exploring the area more, he began to see a parallel which caught his interest more than the landscape.

“Once you spend any time there and you meet the people, you start to notice some other confluences. Those are more social and economic where the haves and have-nots meet,” Marx said. “They don’t always blend very nicely. There are racial differences of black and white; there are those who have land and those who don’t; and there are those who have education and those who don’t. It’s just an intriguing place to be. It looked like an invitation to me.”

The two men are now invested in Alexander County, knowing people’s names and personal stories and even spending some of their own free time helping out in Cairo.

“Their magnetism really works on you. You start becoming attracted to them,” Overturf said. “That’s why I was down there helping everyone fill containers on Thanksgiving last year for six hours. I just did it because I asked myself, ‘What else should I be doing?’”

Though the exhibit for the May Gallery is complete, Overturf and Marx aren’t finished in Alexander County.

“I’m not done shooting. It’s a work in progress. This is my first stab at it,” Overturf said. “This exhibition is a nice cathartic point to get to so we can get back to work and I’m really excited for that. If we show this exhibit again sometime, it might look very different. There’s more to photograph and more people to meet.”

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