It takes more than good intentions to transform the South. It takes money.
What the hell is a Scalawag?
One day the neighbor's horses got out, as they often do, one nearly red and one as silver as the cupped section of a spoon. With time for me to retrieve my camera from the house, once they'd ventured beyond the edge of the lawn into the stretching maw of kudzu vines, I quickly imagined the scene in black and white. As dreamy as it appeared, it was right there in front of me, like a free frame ready to be stolen from our own yard. I was struck by the nearly void sections of the darker horse that blend into the kudzu and weeds, next to the contrast of the silver horse, brilliant in the way its complexion was rendered. The way they functioned as subjects, blending and contrasting both brilliantly, was as weird to me as it was fascinating—metaphor for the harsh dualities the South sometimes holds in its belly—these lost, out of place subjects being found in a kind of harmony. Such a harmony exists, is the common-law marriage of structure and entropy in a place like Panola County. I seek to capture the tentative agreement among its neighboring objects, that fleeting tenderness before the moment of dissolve. Some days it happens by a set of accidents, some degree of readiness and some stippling of imagination. Some days there isn't an inch of the frame that isn't staged. Whatever the circumstance, an aesthetic emerges and continues to form.
Each photograph is driven by the landscape and a deep sense of place. Geographically, Panola County sits mostly in the red clay hills of Mississippi, with its large forests of pine timber, rolling hills lathered with kudzu vines, lakes, gravel and clay pits for digging. Its most western portion lies in Mississippi's alluvial plain, the Mississippi Delta. For stretches as far as the eye can see, there's only flat land, mostly crop-growing fields planted with corn, peanuts, rice, cotton and soybean. The Delta is also rich in shadowy pecan groves, dense patches of forest and as much architectural decay as anyone could imagine, sitting right next to pristine structures and well-manicured lawns.
Very little here is concerned with abject beauty. Rather destruction, violence, neglect, symmetry, contrast, and play emerge as recurring themes and subjects. The story of a place cannot always be captured by strict narrative. Sometimes it is best captured in between blinks, as a sequence of ruptures and the stubborn remnants that persist.
*An abridged form of this essay ran in Issue 10 of our print magazine. We regret that we could not include the fuller essay, and are pleased to feature it here.