I’m interested in what’s real in life, what’s concrete, and my medium is instant film—and using it can mean a vivid preservation of something exactly at it was. My stated goal has long been to preserve artifacts of the disappearing South of my childhood. A few things have changed.
Mississippi Delta, Polaroid SX-70 (2019)
The first is that my childhood and the Alabama I grew up in wasn’t just comic book racks at the drugstore and gleaming chrome on Detroit monoliths. That’s a huge part of what I love about it, but as I’ve begun to consider, it’s not everything.
At Holly’s old house in Jackson, SX-70 (2020)
Now that I’m (mostly) moved to my new house, I’ve gotten to spread out and revisit my bookshelf. There’s so much everyday beauty in Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places,1 but one photo of a JC Penney parking lot just whomped me upside the head when I first saw it. It struck me that it looked exactly like what a parking lot looked like thirty years ago. It wasn’t all Camaros and Firebirds—it’s Datsuns and Buicks, lots of faded paint, lots of rust, lots of mashed-in bumpers. His photo wasn’t a dream of childhood—it’s real.2
Durant, Mississippi, Polaroid 600 (2017)
There’s a lot of beauty in Sally Mann’s Deep South, not all of which I can access. Sometimes slowly flipping its lovely tritone pages is comforting to me, transporting; sometimes it’s frustrating, as I wonder what is this one barely-image supposed to do? The older I get the surer I realize that the photographs she included spoke to her—maybe they speak to you—in ways I can’t hear, maybe will never hear.
Drumkit of Jody Stephens, Ardent Studio, Memphis, Polaroid 600 (ca. 2018)3
Because it’s not always what’s directly in the image, but what might be right beyond its borders, or the feelings it might evoke. This frustrates me, as a person who worked very hard to directly communicate via film what I was thinking and feeling, what I wanted the viewer to get from what I was trying to show them. I wanted the snap of the fingers aha! you get when listening to a pop song. I wanted the singalong gloss of “Modern Love,” not the opaque complexity of the Berlin Trilogy.
Greenwich Village, NYC, SX-70 (2019)
There is a component of this in allowing failure to creep in, or perhaps not striving for a calculated perfection. The Old Man never seemed to worry about this—there’s whole chunks of the The Democratic Forest which give the impression of him daring people to not like the image, almost a test to see whether they have the password to get in the club. I’ll admit in the past few weeks that after a re-read of it I’ve consciously tilted my camera a few degrees, kind of bent the note, as a way of trying to echo his half-cocked compositions.4
Guardian of the Percy Family Grave, Greenville, Miss., SX-70 (2019)
In the months to come I’m going to try to just make more photos of what I see, whatever it is, try to incorporate more failures, try to preserve the quotidian with the magic.
Grand Gulf, Mississippi, SX-70 (2019)
The Hammond organ of Booker T. Jones, Memphis, Tennessee, Polaroid 600 (2019)
Probably my favorite photobook right now. Subject to change! But certainly filled with so many incredible photographs of beautiful places, just startlingly rich.
I often try to tell people it’s impossible to remember how dirty everything seemed. I feel like there was garbage on the side of every inch of the road. Everyone smoked in cars, lots of the time smoked in the house, smoked in Shoney’s and the grocery store and everywhere else. You can’t really communicate just how rough it all seemed.
I had a really blown out landscape here but this image—which I’ve never shown before—reminded me of some of the colors in her earlier work, those bright silvers and grays.
I like to think it’s because he’s just fiddling with a cigarette the whole time he’s shooting, see n.2, supra.