Mississippi: The Place I Live

In the last few months the ugly head of racism has reared its ugly head. It’s something we have been dealing with in the South for a long time and working very hard to reduce. So this new tension is very worrisome.

I have been thinking a lot about this problem for the last few years while I have been working on a Mississippi project. I moved to Hattiesburg in 2003 after having lived and worked in Africa for a long time. Before that as a Midwesterner I felt very strongly about the Civil Rights struggle. So for me, now living in the South, it has been important for me to try to understand the black/white relationship. What I have found is that the communities tend to live and interact in separate, but vibrant, communities. They tend to be comfortable with each other but cling to certain stereotypes of each other that can be very divisive.

The photo that symbolizes what I am most trying to do with my project is shown below. It shows two school chairs, one white and the other black, which somehow ended up side by side on a porch of an old school house, now renovated into a community center.

Old school was renovated into a community center.

Old school was renovated into a community center.

So the idea is that we need to come together more and have more empathy for each other. That is one of the best ways to get over our suspicion of others. Yet when we came back to this community center that evening for some bluegrass music, the crowd was all white. Black Hawk, Mississippi

Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale, Mississippi

The Juke Joint Festival brings people from all backgrounds together to have fun and experience some of the crazier parts of Southern culture, like watching pigs race around a track. Clarksdale, Mississippi

Po'Monkey Juke Joint in the Mississippi, run by William Seaberry, has become very well known after being featured in the New York Times.

Po’Monkey Juke Joint in the Mississippi, run by William Seaberry, has become very well known after being featured in the New York Times.

People from all over the country and world came to dance and listen to the blues at Po’ Monkey Lounge. Everyone was welcome. Unfortunately with Mr. Seaberry’s (the manager) death a few months ago this club has closed. Hopefully some other club will pick up the tradition. Near Merigold, in the Mississippi Delta

 

Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Ground Zero Club, owned by Morgan Freeman, is another place to hang out, have some good food and listen to local music. Clarksdale, Mississippi

The festival ends with the Miss Tamale beauty contest, crowning of the Tamale King and Queen and a blues concert.

The festival ends with the Miss Tamale beauty contest, crowning of the Tamale King and Queen and a blues concert.

After the parade at the Hot Tamale Festival, the King (center) and Queen (on stage left) are crowned. Greenville, Mississippi

People come to the festival to try the different varieties of tamales. The racially integrated crowd mixes casually, enjoying the food and various festival activities.

People come to the festival to try the different varieties of tamales. The racially integrated crowd mixes casually, enjoying the food and various festival activities.

Southern comfort food, especially Mississippi Hot Tamales, is something we all enjoy.
Greenville, Mississippi

MIssissippi State Fair, Jackson, Mississippi

MIssissippi State Fair, Jackson, Mississippi

The Mississippi State Fair, as well as most fairs, is another place for everyone to come together and have some fun. Jackson, Mississippi

The Black and White Dept Store is still doing business in downtown Yazoo.

The Black and White Dept Store is still doing business in downtown Yazoo.

A curious name for a department store chain started in the 40’s in the South. Only this store remains in business. I wonder if it lived up to its name and served everyone equally? Yazoo City, Mississippi

Shadow of church steeple.

Shadow of church steeple.

The church is so important in Southerner’s lives. And yet it is in the churches where whites and blacks, for the most part, worship separately. Friars Point, Mississippi

Birth place of Howling Wolf.

Birth place of Howling Wolf.

When my husband and I were going on road trips, trying to learn more about the state, the best place way to meet people was by stopping to talk to people sitting on their porches. It is Southern hospitality at its finest. White Station, Mississippi.

Mrs. White and her dog in front their now closed general store, Dogtown, Mississippi

Mrs. White and her dog in front their now closed general store, Dogtown, Mississippi

On our road trips we would look for towns with unusual names. Here we met Mrs. White who came out of her house with her dog to tell us about the grocery she and her husband used to run in Dogtown, Mississippi.

The other night we sat in our living room with two of our good friends from the African American community and the discussion veered in the direction of how to deal with the racial problem. One of them was generally pretty pessimistic about blacks and whites coming together. And then she said something pretty interesting. She said that white people had been more friendly and kinder to her in the last few weeks and she was surprised, but also comforted, by this. And another white friend while buying some produce at a local market felt a need to reach out to someone not normally in her circle of acquaintances. Maybe it is with these little ways of being friendly to everyone we meet, doing acts of kindness, and showing respect for others that we can change some of that distrust of others. In any case it is a good way to start in these uncertain times.

~~~~~

The women of f/4 Studio extend a warm welcome to today’s guest, Betty Press.

Betty Press has been photographing for the last 25 years.  She grew up on a farm in Nebraska but left the Midwest to experience the world.  Her photographic career really started when she moved to Africa in 1987.  As a free lance photographer she quickly established connections with UNICEF, UNHCR, and other non profit organizations to photograph what was happening at that time.  She also contributed to most major magazines and newspapers.  In 1992 she had the honor of photographing Audrey Hepburn on her visit to Somalia as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

In 1995 she moved to Florida to start a new phase which included teaching photography at Stetson University.  She started to show her African photographs which showed the more positive aspects of African society and culture.  The work placed in Photolucida Critical Mass Top 50 in 2005.  She also continued to photograph in Florida, the African diaspora in Cuba, and Central America.

Her photographs have been widely exhibited and collected around the world as well as being selected for many juried competitions.  In 2011 she published her first award winning photobook I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb. She captured a stunning, life-affirming portrait of the African people and culture.

Her current project, Mississippi: The Place I Live, deals with being in Mississippi and trying to better understand the “place” where she now lives.  In 2012 she received the statewide award in photography from the Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters and in 2013 a Visual Artist Fellowship Grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission.  In 2015 she received an award of excellence for her photos in Mississippi Collegiate Art Faculty Juried Exhibition.

In the last few years Lens Culture, Silvershotz magazine, South x Southeast magazine, Lenscratch magazine, Rfotofolio, Art Photo Indes, ACurator, Oxford American, Aint Bad Magazine, and John Wall’s Southern Photographer blog has featured her work.

More of Betty’s work can be found HERE.

Thank you once again, Betty!

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