Center for the Study of Southern Culture. University of Mississippi

Monday, June 16, 2014

A new photo exhibit by Michael Ford just went up in the Gammill Gallery of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. The exhibit is in conjunction with the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference in late July, presented by The University of Mississippi/English Department. The show runs June 15th-August 15th, 2014


Artist’s statement from Ford:

I was either lucky or blessed to be in North Mississippi at a time of profound change. The agrarian world of Faulkner was disappearing, but it could still be found in special places. The subjects in these photographs were strong, enduring people.

The pictures were made as a study of the land and the people during pre-production for HOMEPLACE. Photography turned into a bridge of trust, allowing me to capture the day-to-day life within a disappearing culture. The film was released in 1975.

Some stories impose themselves on the storyteller. West African griots must sing witness to the past. The Irish seanachaí’s burden is to carry the “old lore.” If you’re really lucky, a good story has a way of finding you and making you tell it. It happened to me.

For many Southerners, their homeplace—a family home or farm handed down through generations—holds lasting significance. My homeplace was not handed down. I found mine by accident, but it holds as much significance for me as if I inherited it. I found my homeplace in North Mississippi in December 1971 on a trip to visit my in-laws. The trip changed my life to its very core. Everything that I’ve done since has its roots in that experience.

My then-wife’s family had moved to Oxford, where her father was on the faculty of the University of Mississippi. It was Christmas. As we drove south from Rochester, New York, in our red VW bus with New York plates and a peace sign I began to wonder if this was the smartest thing I’d ever done. Then, on an afternoon respite from in-laws, my friend James Forward showed me some eye-opening sights.

We drove north of Oxford and west along the north shore of Sardis Lake. The first frost had just happened early that morning. Next to country shacks, large kettles were sitting over open fires. First frost is hog killing time.

For months we traveled the roads north of Sardis. The area north of the lake was as remote as we could get. This was the America captured by Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, or Dorthea Lange for the Farm Security Administration’s photography program in the 1930s and ’40s. I was far out of my depth. I knew nothing of the South, or rural America for that matter, of cultural anthropology, ethnography, or folklife. But I learned and was given the luck, or grace perhaps, to find my way to Mr. Hall, and with his guidance I was given entrée to a whole new world. The men and women that I encountered there were strong, dignified, self-respecting people. And the colors and softness of the land, combined with the beauty of the light, were moving beyond description.

Michael Ford is a documentary photographer-filmmaker with Yellow Cat Productions in Washington, D.C.

A new documentary American Homeplace is currently in production.