Category: Art/Photography (Page 1 of 6)

Author Q & A with Robert St. John & Wyatt Waters

Interview by Jana Hoops. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (December 10)

Mississippi natives Robert St. John and Wyatt Waters have teamed up once again to create yet another “coffee table cookbook” worthy of the attention of good cooks and art admirers far beyond the boundaries of their home state.

ms palateIn A Mississippi Palate: Heritage Cuisine and Watercolors of Home, St. John and Waters serve up another full plate of exceptional recipes and watercolor scenes–and this time it’s all about the Magnolia State. Included are 105 recipes and 66 watercolors, all representing the Delta and Hill Country, the Central Region, and south to the Gulf Coast.

A syndicated weekly food columnist, St. John has authored 10 books (three with Waters) and is the owner of four noted eateries in his hometown of Hattiesburg. He has been named the state’s top chef three consecutive years and has been honored with the title of Mississippi Restauranteur of the Year.

Waters grew up in Florence, began art lessons as a first-grader, and is now widely recognized for his “Southern culture” watercolors and plein air paintings. He has received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Art, the Mississippi Library Association Special Award for Art and the Mississippi Arts Commission Governor’s Award for Excellence in Arts. In addition to his collaborations with St. John, he has released five other books, and his work has been featured in numerous regional and national publications. Today, he lives in Clinton, where he owns an art gallery.

How did you two meet and begin creating books together?

St. John: It all started as a suggestion by one of our restaurant customers. She had been bugging me for months about writing a cookbook. I had no interest in writing a book, but she persisted. One day, she was sitting in the restaurant with a man and called me over to the table. She said, “Robert, this is so-and-so with so-and-so publishing company. Tell him about your cookbook.”

I had no cookbook, and, seriously, had never ever thought about doing a cookbook before that moment. So, trying to think quickly on my feet, I said, “If I were to do a cookbook, I would have recipes I have developed here at the restaurant over the years, stories like in my newspaper column about the South, growing up in the South, and food in the South, and watercolors by Wyatt Waters.”

Without missing a beat, the publisher said, “Well, if you get Wyatt Waters, you’ve got a deal.” The problem was that I didn’t know Wyatt. I was a big fan of his work and the two books he had released at that time. So, the next day, I hopped in my car, drove to Clinton to his gallery, introduced myself, and told him that I had an idea for a book that would be like a coffee table cookbook, and a publisher willing to publish it. We hit it off, and here we are.

Waters: Robert and his wife Jill came to my gallery. He had this idea for a book that used stories, food, and heart to describe Southern culture. The idea intrigued me. I went to visit and meet with him further at his restaurant in Hattiesburg. I was impressed at how everything was done in an excellent way. Robert relates everything to food. I knew he was someone I wanted to work with and know better. Right before we met, my father had a stroke, and during the work on the book, he passed away. Putting the book together was a bonding experience, and I knew this was someone who would be a friend for life. I think Robert invented the coffee table cookbook genre. Most of the time, I don’t know if we’re working or just having a good time.

Tell me about the collaboration process.

St. John: This is our fourth collaboration. The process for each one has been different. When we worked together on our first book, A Southern Palate, we had just met each other. We had a lot in common–musical interests, family backgrounds, childhood memories, and the like–but we were two guys without a work history.

Today, we are best friends who have been collaborating for over 17 years. It’s way, way better. I love collaborative projects. There is a point where you reach when you’re working in a type of shorthand and a lot goes unsaid and unspoken. It’s familiar in a good way.

We have a blast hanging out with each other and working together. We have driven all over Mississippi for years, with the radio turned up way too loud, and we still encounter people, places, and things we have never seen before.

Waters: First of all, Robert has what I would call generosity of spirit. It’s not always clear whose idea it is. The project always take more importance than who came up with it. Another thing that helps is that i don’t pretend to know the food part. Robert has been a very good guide in that world.

The word most associated with artist is “starving.” Not something I have to worry about with Robert. When we get together and talk about ideas, I frequently grab a pencil and an envelope or a napkin and draw out ideas. When we are making final decisions about the book, another thing we do is spread out all of the paintings in consideration and begin culling the ones we don’t think fit. We also try to figure out what gaps need to be filled. There are several versions before we land on a final draft. It’s mostly based on intuition.

(L) Robert St. John and (R) Wyatt Waters

(L) Robert St. John and (R) Wyatt Waters

A Mississippi Palate is your fourth book together, but it’s your first that is strictly about Mississippi. Tell me how you approached this book.

St. John: In all of my–and our–other books, I have known going in what the structure would be like and how the recipes would be listed by chapter. I didn’t know on this project until we got into the recipe-testing phase of the thing. I wanted to have heritage recipes that reminded me of my childhood, but I also wanted up-to-date preparations. Ultimately, I chose things that were “Mississippi to me.” I’m happy with the end result.

Waters: This was like the most difficult of all art forms: the self-portrait. You never really can say exactly who you are. The best you can do is say at that moment what you believe you see. I’ve tried to be honest with my eyes and honest with my heart. This is the most personal of the books we have done together.

What is life like when you’re on the road for a book tour?

St. John: I love going to book signings and speaking events. I get to meet people who have read my newspaper column for almost two decades who remember stuff about my family and me that I had forgotten years ago.

But what I really enjoy is hanging out with my best friend. I drive. He rides. We listen to a lot of music. There’s a lot of me laughing at Wyatt. He cracks me up. He is one of the most clever and witty people I’ve ever known. I speak in “quantity,” he speaks in “quality.”

Waters: Music. Yes, lots of music. After we finished putting the book together, we went to Muscle Shoals and hung out with musicians Mac MacAnally and Norbert Putnam. I didn’t paint, and Robert didn’t cook. But we had a really good time. We cut up and goofed around.

There are some people who we only know from the book tours. They tell us what they’ve been doing since the last time we saw them. It’s a sort of a distant family member that you can’t exactly remember the name of.

Tell me about your new TV show, Palate to Palatte, on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. What can viewers expect, and what do you like most about doing it?

St. John: Palate to Palette  has been a blast. It has been well-received–actually, way better than we could have ever imagined. Our friend Anthony Thaxton wears many hats, and is the director/editor/goat wrangler. It’s Wyatt and me having fun, eating too much, listening to music too loud. He’s painting. I’m cooking and eating, we are visiting off-the-beaten-path places and unique people. I think people are going to enjoy it, but there’s no way anyone will have as much fun watching it as we have had during the filming (in Mississippi and northern Italy).

Someone asked me what the TV show was about the other day, and I said, “It’s really kind of cheating, because it’s the same thing we’ve been doing for the past 17 years, except now we have cameras with us.”

Waters: The idea is for people to see what we do when we are working together. After a few minutes, we forget the cameras are there. WE’re just being ourselves and it’s very unscripted. Anthony Thaxton is the videographer and edits this into a story. Anthony is an old student of mine and an excellent painter himself.

Do you have another book or project that you’re eyeing now?

St. John: I’ll be opening four new restaurants in the next two years. Wyatt and I have a couple of projects we have been talking about. This TV thing has a lot of possibilities. We will definitely keep taking people to Europe on food/art tours, and we have talked about a potential New Orleans book sometime in the future. I have no interest in slowing down anytime soon. In a way, we’re just getting started.

Waters: We’ve already done a lot more than I though I would ever do. Yes, the tours and TV shows are good to do and I like the ideas of a New Orleans book very much. New Orleans is close enough to where we have a lot of experience and feel its influence.

Anything else you’d like to include here?

St. John: One of the unexpected joys that has come with being a Mississippi writer is getting to know the independent bookstore owners throughout the South, and especially in Mississippi. They are on the front lines of a very challenging business model these days. We do everything we can to support them. We are their biggest cheerleaders, but it’s a two-way street. They’ve been there for us over the years, too.

Waters: We are both sons of Mississippi, so we’re kind of like brothers. It’s a real honor to work on something that we believe in as much as these projects we do. All the things that I’ve done all my life feel like preparation for where I am right now. I want to tell those future sons and daughters of Mississippi that they can do more than they think they can. You can live your dream and you can do it in a place you love around people you love.

Robert St. John and Wyatt Waters will be at Lemuria signing copies of A Mississippi Palate on Saturday, December 16 at 11:00 a.m.

‘Live from the Mississippi Delta’ provides a front row seat

By DeMatt Harkins. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (October 15)

No matter how well one may know Mississippi, more layers, subcultures, and haunts appear. They prove endlessly fascinating from a historical, literary, culinary, or musical perspective. In her first book, Live from the Mississippi Delta (University Press of Mississippi), photographer Panny Flautt Mayfield shares her snapshots encapsulating all of these in the greater Clarksdale area.

live from the ms deltaWhile the Coahoma County seat may not be a booming metropolis, the camera-wielding Mayfield frequently found herself in the right place at the right time, during culturally significant events and times over the past 30 years. Her casual stream-of-consciousness photo journal lets the reader in on the energy, with the perspective only a local could provide.

Clarksdale functions as one of the more important blues towns in a state filled with many. Famous native sons include John Lee Hooker, Son House, Ike Turner, and Sam Cooke.And Muddy Waters, W.C. Handy, and Robert Johnson lived there as well. On those shoulders stands a world-renowned musical legacy that supports an enduring local music scene and pilgrimage destination.

This is what Mayfield documents. She exhibits the role Clarksdale and surrounding radius palys in blues past and present–intertwining people, events, and locations, decades and miles apart.

Two excellent sources of material prove to be the town’s Sunflower Blues Festival and King Biscuit Blues Festival in neighboring Helena, Arkansas. Mayfield’s tome displays excellent shots of stalwarts Bobby Bland, Albert King, Little Milton, Denise LaSalle, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Charlie Musselwhite, Otis Rush, Koko Taylor, Pinetop Perkins, Junior Kimbrough, and Honeyboy Edwards–each pictured in the throes of performance.

But Mayfield has also witnessed another level of visitor to the vicinity. She covered John Fogerty and Pop Staples attending Charley Patton’s headstone dedication in Holly Ridge. When famed Smithsonian archivist Alan Lomax returned to Clarksdale after years and years, Mayfield captured him sitting down to hear a picker. She was also on hand for sitting President Clinton’s walking tour of downtown Clarksdale. ZZ Top invited the national press to Mississippi. They were kicking off a million-dollar campaign for the Delta Blues Museum. Guess who was front and center?

Perhaps most stunning of all is Mayfield’s friendship with Robert Plant. The Led Zeppelin frontman’s academic fascination with blues music has manifested in a series of trips to Clarksdale. Throughout the book, Plant pops up, letting the golden locks hang low in practical anonymity. His rapport with Mayfield eventually landed her at his band’s 2007 London reunion concert, depicted in the concert film Celebration Day.

While undeniably interesting, global luminaries are not the appeal of Live from the Mississippi Delta. As Mayfield demonstrates, the magic is in the local mainstays. As the first black disk jockey in Mississippi, Early Wright’s Soul Man Show on WROX–replete with impromptu ads and PSAs–endeared listeners for decades. When he wasn’t opening NAACP chapters across the state, WAde Walton cut multiple generation’s hair. Mrs. Z L Hill ran the Henderson Hotel boarding house for 53 years and even hosted John F. Kennedy. The after-school blues students of Johnnie Billington flew to Washington, D.C. to play at the White House.

However, Mayfield provides more neon than neoclassical. She places the reader in the middle of Clarksdale’s finest music venues. From the dance floor, one can observe the likes of The Jellyroll Kings, Super Chikan, or Bilbo Walker playing Smitty’s Red Top Lounge, Margaret’s Blue Diamond, or the Bobo Grocery. And as the photos make clear, the stars of the evening are not always on stage.

In Live from the Mississippi Delta, Mayfield serves as her own acoustiguide. Sometimes the narrative explains the picture, other times the photo illustrates a point. Regardless she delivers an engaging look into multidimensional Clarksdale and the pleasure it holds.

DeMatt Harkins of Jackson enjoys flipping pancakes and records with his wife and daughter.

Panny Flautt Mayfield will be Lemuria on Wednesday, November 1, at 5:00 to promote her book, Live from the Mississippi Delta.

Sally Mann is here tonight, and one of her biggest fans can barely contain her excitement

I have read so many great books lately, I was torn about what to write my monthly blog about…until I finally did what I have been putting off for over a year, and that is read Sally Mann’s memoir, Hold Still. I am never one to run for nonfiction because oftentimes it can get really dry, and that disappoints me to no end. It’s not that I don’t want to know about all these things people write about, because trust me I do. It’s just that I don’t want my image of someone I hold in such high esteem to be flawed by their attempt at writing.

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“Candy Cigarette” from Immediate Family

Being a photographer myself, Sally Mann is someone I hold in the absolute highest regard; she is without a doubt my favorite living fine art photographer. Her photographs stir something inside of me that no one else can. The first time I saw the image “Candy Cigarette” from her body of work Immediate Family, I was hooked. With each image I saw thereafter, I fell more and more in love with her and equally became fascinated by her. I have studied her work and process for years and soaked up anything I could read about her on the internet and in books. I have had little glimmers of her in my life through various other people who know her. These stories are like little flashes of light in my peripheral vision that, if I hadn’t been paying close attention, I might not be sure that I had seen at all. But I can assure you, I am always paying attention when her name is spoken. Like a horse, my ears prick up, seeking out wherever the origin of the name came from.

One such story was from a friend of a friend who was at a dinner that was a veritable who’s who of photography. William Eggelston, of course, was there, and he said Sally was happily snapping, snapping away the entire dinner. Then there was the occasion when I walked into James Patterson’s studio, and Sally had sent him a ruined print with a note written on back, which is a common practice of hers. (That was certainly a thrill for me.) And last but not least is the time Marcy Nessel, James, and I went to Nashville to visit Jack Spencer’s studio. Jack is one of my other favorite living photographers. He and Sally are longtime friends, and to hear someone speak of her in such a familiar way was in a word surreal. But the best part was that Jack had a book of photography of her work; however it was no ordinary book. All of the images were handprinted, platinum prints, and the book also included her poetry. It was heaven in the softest shade of ballet pink. Digging into the recesses of my mind, I come up empty when thinking of another time I have coveted something so greatly.

So needless to say when I heard SALLY MANN was coming to the bookstore, all of my tendencies for a flair of the dramatic were sent into overdrive. The fact that I didn’t weep is in actuality a miracle. I did however make a 911 text message to my dear friend Ashleigh to tell her she had to call me immediately because it was a matter of the most importance.

JacketJust a week ago I realized that I could not have the woman I basically worship come to Lemuria without even reading her book. So I did it. I picked up the book I had treasured like a child for almost a year. This book has had permanent residence beside my bed in two different homes at this point. I can only blame putting it off for so long because of my own stupid fear. What if it wasn’t as good as I needed it to be? After all, she is human. She could get it wrong. Thankfully all that worrying was in vain because not unlike Patti Smith, Sally Mann is a Renaissance woman. And if I had looked a little more closely, I would have seen that Patti had even blurbed the damn thing on the back.

Y’all, I couldn’t put this damn book down. Not only is Sally’s life amazing, it is so utterly real. She is a mother who fiercely loves her children and a wife who adores her husband Larry. The seemingly unwavering drive she has to make her art is awe-inspiring. With three children, a husband, and a full-time art career, I would imagine she falls into bed every night, asleep before her head hits the pillow.

There are so many layers to this memoir: family history (which is riveting), discussions on the bodies of work Immediate Family and  Deep South, her creative process… I’ll have to tell you, the family history stuff, at times will leave you with your mouth hanging open in shock. Lots of families have those stories, but Sally just busts it out very matter of factly and tells it like it was. The honesty is very refreshing.

Jacket (2)And then we come to her writing about her work. Well I could read about that until I am I don’t know what. Immediate Family was the first body of work that I became familiar with of Sally’s, but it was her writing about Deep South that really resonated with me. Being a Mississippi delta girl and someone who is very connected to the land, I very much get what she was doing with this work. But I can honestly say I didn’t feel the images before as I do now. I am looking at those images in a completely different way now. In one part she says that the images look “breathed onto the plate.” If you haven’t read the book or aren’t familiar with her process, she is referring to the way the southern landscape and the light appear on a collodion plate. “Breathed onto the plate.” Now that is one of the loveliest things I’ve ever read, and it will always be with me.

The way she writes is so readable and beautiful at the same time. I imagine she writes exactly as she speaks, which is how it feels when you are reading it. Like someone is just telling you a story. And Sally has got some stories. Come and get some of these stories on Thursday night. It’s going to be unbelievable!

Come Check Out My Spring Display (Pt 1)

Despite all the rain of the past few days, spring means a number of very sunny and happy things to me. So in honor of this most wonderful time in Mississippi, during the two-week period when we don’t all feel like we will surely die from wretched, wet cold or suffocate from the stifling heat, we can all walk outside our homes and just say “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

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I have built a display. This display is what spring means to me and essentially all of the things it makes me want to do. I feel certain I’m not the only one who gets the planting bug in the spring. I have a particular fondness for succulents and terrariums. Why you might ask? Well that is because they are low maintenance, they are clean and fresh looking, and depending on your arrangement, they can look rather elaborate. I like to appear like I know what I’m doing, people. And I truly, to goodness do not. I was not blessed with the green thumb of father and mother. It is not necessarily a black thumb; I fondly call it my gray thumb. So in this situation everyone wins…including the plants. If anyone feels so inclined, I’ve placed a book on this display for each of these loves. One is called Terrarium Craft, the other Hardy Succulents. Another favorite is Tiny Terrarium. If you are interested ask me and I’ll show it to you! Essentially you create scenes inside your terrarium with people and any manner of thing. I know Joan Hawkins Interiors had the makings for these things.

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Anyhow moving on…spring also makes me want to spruce my house up. Justina Blakeney’s new book The New Bohemians makes me want to completely rethink my entire decorating scheme – just completely start all over again. I love the clean lines of a mid-century furniture, but lord knows I can cram a lot of stuff in a space and hang a lot of art on the walls. So does this make me a modern bohemian, as a section in her book suggests? I have many questions left on this matter, but honestly this book is a feast for your eyes. Blakeney has gotten quite a lot of acclaim for design aesthetic over the past few years, and this book only further proves why. Now if I really want to build on what I’ve got (which my mother would say is my best option), I should really invest in the new Apartment Therapy Complete + Happy Home. This book pulls from a little bit of everywhere just like their incredible blog of the same name (Apartment Therapy…in case you missed that part). I mean this book talks about it all, down to the frames you use for your art, without being overwhelming and nitpicking. Oh I almost forgot to mention that The New Bohemians has great DIY projects in it which segues into my next desire of spring…CRAFTING.

I pretty m9781617691751uch always love to make something, but I think the whole new life thing that comes along with spring really does something to me. A book I’ve been drooling over for quite some time now is The Modern Natural Dyer. Not only is it a gorgeous book, but it also tells you how to dye fibers with flowers, vegetables, and spices. Basically head on over to the grocery store and make a mess because I love to make a mess. It’s the cleaning up that presents a problem for me. This book has twenty projects for your home and your wardrobe, including knitting and sewing. Pretty amazing if you think about it. “Oh, why yes, I did make this! I dyed it as well. Eat your freaking heart out!!!” Next up on the docket we have Materially Crafted: A DIY Primer for the Design-Obsessed (that’s me). So this book’s projects are broken down into sections of spray paint, plaster, concrete, paper, thread, wax, wood, and the list goes on. I could definitely get into a modern looking concrete cake stand or some precious wax bud vases. There is more to come about this display, but I feel like I am close to losing all of you so I will leave you here

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: Willie’s House

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Chris Ray

We always felt that the house chose us as much as we chose it. Carolyn and I had been to a couple of JoAnne’s parties, the last one being the celebration of the movie release of My Dog Skip after Willie died. I was always struck with how real their home felt, surrounded by genuine laughter, someone playing the piano, curiosities and ephemera, and of course, a library’s worth of books.

When JoAnne decided that the house was too big for her to keep up, I believe that she not only wanted to find someone to buy the house, but also to honor it. Which brings up an interesting challenge: how do you make a home yours, while honoring those who came before you?

We’ve tried to do both – and I think that Willie would be happy to see that the cats from the neighborhood still hang out in the crawl space. Curious literary fans still drive by slowly. There are dozens of assorted balls and sports gear scattered about the house, garage, and yard. In fact, our son John keeps a collection of baseballs in the same small closet where Willie kept his. And the books, my gosh, the books. They are everywhere.

We have Willie’s highway map of Yazoo County framed upstairs and a photo downstairs of Willie taken by his son, David Rae. And every now and then, we will find some odd treasure that Willie had hidden or misplaced. I think Willie would like the fact that our neighbors, Governor Winter and Dick Molpus, still tell Willie stories every time we see them. Dick told me recently that Willie would walk down to his house every Christmas to say hello as part of his “once-a-year exercise.”

But I don’t think Willie would want his former home to be a shrine. Or something too precious. I think he would appreciate that the paint is peeling here and there and there’s a patch where we just can’t get grass to grow. I think he’d be happy to see it alive, with the same kind of love and laughter that you felt and heard when he lived there.

To order a copy of Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy , call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or order online here

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: My dream of reliving the Farish Street of my youth

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Jimmie E. Gates, political writer/columnist at The Clarion-Ledger

When I was in my teens, one of my biggest thrills was coming to Farish Street in downtown Jackson.

It was the sight and sounds of a hustling mecca of black life. There were snappy dressed females with their hats. There were men dressed in classy suits, which made you think of The Apollo Theater or the old Cotton Club in Harlem. We had our Crystal Place on Farish Street, and for good measure, we had our Alamo Theater, which was a movie theater. I will never forget going to the Alamo Theater to watch Bruce Lee movies, Godzilla versus the Three-Headed Monster, and most of all watching actress Pam Grier in films.

Those were the days for me growing up. Farish Street was like a whole new world to me. There would be Mr. Armstrong selling Jet Magazines on Farish Street and vendors selling roasted peanuts in small bags and other items. The shoe shine guy, “Bear Trap,” would stay busy; there was a bakery/donut shop, but my favorite was the ice cream plant. Whenever we would be on Farish Street, we would always go by the ice cream plant. The ice cream man, whose name escapes me today, would give us ice cream bars. He would always be dressed in a white uniform and wearing a hat to match.

We would always come to Farish Street and shop. Although Farish Street was the mecca of black life in the 60s and 70s, many of the clothing stores and shoe stores were Jewish-owned.

I will never forget my Farish Street days. I don’t know when Farish Street began to deteriorate, but it probably occurred after the first mall opened in the city. Jackson Mall opened in 1969 followed by  Metrocenter in 1978. Farish Street stores and other stores began to leave the downtown area for the malls.

We longed for the bygone days of our youths; sometimes wondering if we can recreate those years.

I pass the empty shell of the buildings lining Farish Street today wondering if the hustle and bustle of the street will ever live again.

Decades have gone by since Farish Street was the place to go. There have been talk about reclaiming the area as an entertainment district, but the talk hasn’t materialized into returning Farish Street to its heydays.

I know others have their own fond memories of places and things in Jackson that were once special to them. Farish Street was that place for me.

There was a song by the late Luther Vandross  called “Dance With My Father” that was one of my favorites. The lyrics were based upon Vandross’ childhood  memories of  his late father and mother often dancing together. Vandross knew his dream could never come true when he wrote the song because his father was deceased. We all have our dreams; the dreams that would make us happy. Seeing Farish Street alive again with life and vitality would be a dream come true for me.

 

Ken Murphy will be joining us in the store all day today (December 23) and will be signing copies of all of his books!

Gifting the Perfect Book: Students of the Human Condition

Jacket (1)It seems impossible to be able to capture what it is to be human, but Brandon Stanton has come pretty darn close.

What started back in 2010 as one man trying to take a photographic census of the city of New York has now become an extremely successful blog with millions of followers. Humans of New York, Stanton’s first book published in 2013, is comprised solely of photographs that portray the diversity of those living in the Big Apple.

Humans of New York: Stories is the highly-demanded continuation of this project that came out in October 2015. Armed with a camera and a knack for interviewing, Stanton uncovers more about the people living in the various boroughs through photographs and accompanying quotes.

From little kids talking about their day and couples discussing their relationships, to men and women battling mental illness or dealing with loss, each story is unique and engaging; and not only paints a bigger picture of the variety of people living in New York, but also reveals how we are all similar at our core.

I absolutely love HONY, particularly the quotes, so this book sucked me in from start to finish. Even in its simplicity, there is a heart-wrenching honesty that comes from the people who are featured. I smiled. I laughed. I cried. Many of the stories are so raw and vulnerable that they straight-up punched me in the gut.

Not only are the stories deeply moving, but the photographs are also incredibly stunning. Each piece flows smoothly to the next, and I couldn’t stop flipping the pages; it makes for a great coffee table book.

What I love the most about HONY is Stanton’s ability to make you stop and really think about people. He takes prejudices and stereotypes and shoves them back in your face. From joy and celebrations to heartache and pain, the rich stories from everyday people (and even a few well-known faces) ultimately show how we are all connected despite our differences. Each page gives you a broader understanding of how every person has their own baggage they’re carrying, their own dreams they’re pursuing, and their own battle they’re fighting.

I really appreciate how Stanton has given people, who may not have a chance to have their voices heard, a platform to share their stories. Though this is a book filled with numerous faces, Stanton still manages to convey that no one can be summed up in a photo or a line of text—their stories extend beyond the page. I’m interested to see what this project will evolve into next. I recommend Humans of New York: Stories to anyone in need of an impressive photography book or a quick read that will get you thinking.

Why Maude Schuyler Clay’s ‘Mississippi History’ is Breathtaking

Jacket (1)Maude Schuyler Clay has a new photography book. On a whim, I decided to flip through its pages because I do love a good coffee table book. Looking at these photos, I felt goose bumps; as someone who appreciates art, and the intricacies that are often involved in the history of art, this collection of photographs feels both intimate and timeless. And as there has been a bent and focus on the Delta recently (Richard Grant’s Dispatches of Pluto, an incredible outsider’s view of Mississippi), the sense of place in these photos counterbalanced Grant’s book and is clearly an insider’s view of Mississippi.

At first, I did not know that these people, or subjects of the photographs, were Clay’s own family and friends. But every time I would see a character’s name appear in a different photograph, in a different time, in a different location, I felt a jolt of recognition, a connection with that person who I had also seen several pages back.

What I love about this collection is that it is not chronological. Pictures of her children at twelve appear before pictures of her children when they are toddlers. And because of this repetition, the people in these photographs aren’t just subjects, but characters, part of a story. Clay could have easily called this book “My Mississippi History.” But it wouldn’t have retained the same mysteriousness; it was only after reading the closing words at the end of the book that I learned these people were her own children and family—after all, there are pictures of them in the bathtub, and on Christmas morning. Where else would the photographer be on Christmas morning than at home with her family?

The ambiguity with which the photographs are arranged and presented allows the viewers to place themselves in that moment, to recognize a piece of themselves in Mississippi History. The photographs were taken over the past three decades, so I also loved guessing when the photographs were shot. Some are clearly recent; “Mr. Biggers” has Apple earbuds in his ears as he stands with fresh greens in his hand. Some are unmistakably from the 70s. My favorite picture is of “Anna as Heidi.” All of the photographs are gorgeously artistic and intimate. The majority of these photos are of children, especially Clay’s own children in different stages of their lives, so the photographs have a very evident “mother’s eye-view” in them, a look at what a real Mississippi mother truly sees.

Today, anyone can take a picture on Instagram, put a fancy filter on it and call themselves a “photographer.” Clay shows that she is a genius in the art of photography, and has been using light and shadows in nature to create those illusive filters we place on photographs today.

Flipping through the pages of Mississippi History feels like flipping through a good friend’s photo album. It is the perfect gift for that person who loves to take pictures of their children, and also perfect for anyone who has grown up here in the Magnolia State.

 

Join us on Thursday, December 17 at 5:00 for a signing event for Mississippi History! 

Collecting Barry Moser

appalachia“Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds” by Cynthia Rylant, Illustrations by Barry Moser. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991.

In “Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds” by Cynthia Rylant, life is hard but it is also sweet. Rylant’s Appalachia is a land of coal miners, small churches, country dogs, dirt roads, homemade quilts, and cotton dresses. She communicates the rhythm of Appalachian life in her picture book for the young and old:

“In the summer many of the women like to can. It seems their season. They sit on kitchen chairs on back porches and they talk of their lives while they snap beans or cut up cucumbers for pickling. It is a good way for them to catch up on things and to have time together, alone, for neither the children nor the men come around much when there is canning going on.”

Cynthia Rylant, a Caldecott and Newbery award-winning author, writes about where she grew up in West, Virginia. Her young life was not unfamiliar to Barry Moser, the book’s illustrator. Moser, a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a printmaker, a designer, author, essayist, and teacher. He is well-known for his fully illustrated Bible published in 1999, by his own Pennyroyal Press which has designed some of the most beautiful modern limited editions of the twentieth century.

Moser’s paintings and prints have graced such classic stories and poetry as “The Adventures of Brer Rabbit,” “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and “The Tales of Edgar Allen Poe,” but he has also worked with many modern children’s books authors.

Moser’s paintings that accompany Rylant’s text were inspired by Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, Marion Post Walcott, and Dorothea Lange. The subjects in the paintings are simple and direct. The gaze of the coal miner shows a man with few choices in life—his father and grandfather were coal miners, too. The sweetness of life is there, too, as in the opening quote from James Agee, a nod to his own family in Knoxville, Tennessee:

“The stars are wide and alive, they seem like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds . . .”

 

Original to the Clarion-Ledger

See more of Barry Moser’s books here.

Hold Still by Sally Mann

If you don’t know who Sally Mann is, that’s okay. But, you may want to get to know her. I didn’t know exactly who she was either, I only remembered her most famous photograph of her three children. Maybe this one rings a bell?

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She’s pretty well-known for her large-scale black and white photographs, and her second book of photography “Immediate Family”—filled with photos of her (mostly un-clothed) young children. Yes, she got quite a bit of backlash due to this, but hey, it’s her children and her life. Sally said it best when describing how she takes photographs and what that might cost her: “To be able to take my pictures I have to look, all the time, at the people and places I care about. And I must do so with both warm ardour and cool appraisal, with the passions of both eye and heart, but in that ardent heart there must also be a splinter of ice.”

unnamed (2)Mann’s new book, Hold Still is not just a photography book, she has let us step into her life by making this book her memoir. I’ve always enjoyed photography, and I’m not going to lie, at first I only picked this book up in the store to flip through the photos. I was told that she had been to a “body farm” and taken photos of the human body’s stages of decomposition and damn, she really did (yes, I’m the gross kid that thinks that stuff is cool, sorry about it). This book is filled with photos from the birth of one of her children to photos of family relics. All of which are intriguing and beautifully done.

While the photography is great (trust me, it is), I really stuck around for her writing. I picked this book up while I was working, and didn’t want to put it down. I literally had to, because…you know, work comes first. But! I knew I had to buy this book. Reading the pages in this book will make you feel like Sally Mann is sitting right next to you joking and telling you her life story. Her wit is perfect, it sucked me right in. She’s a bit of an odd-ball, but aren’t we all? I think that’s what truly makes this feel like your best friend is telling you a story, instead of you reading a book.

This books the best of both worlds for me (and hopefully you!). The photography is beautiful and her writing makes me wish I had grown up right next door to her in Virginia in the 1960s.

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