Southerners Call the Shots
A new photography exhibit shows the Southern experience along the Mississippi Blues Trail
Story by L. Taylor smith
Arts | January 2014
Dusty sunsets, a church in need of faithful feet and the smiles of Southerners soaking up summer take center stage in a new photography exhibit titled "My Mississippi Blues Trail" at the Tunica RiverPark and Museum. More than 170 historical markers make up the Mississippi Blues Trail, which stretches from the Gulf Coast to Memphis, Tenn. Scott Blake, owner and creative director of Design 500, chose the photographers and selected which photos made it into the exhibit. Each photo is a window into a photographer's personal experience traveling down the trail, according to Blake."We specialize in museums that interpret the Southern experience. This is just one more layer of that for me. I personally knew a few of the artists who were selected; then, other members in the Delta arts community suggested other photographers."The signs mark important locations in blues history and Blake believes those who come to admire the photos can experience the richness of the trail, whether they've lived in the MidSouth their entire life or they're just visitors passing through. "It's not just historical landmarks along the side of the road. There's a whole life and history that comes from this trip."
Blake handpicked eight photographers from across the MidSouth to contribute to the exhibit this year, each with a distinct style and eye. "Most of them are hobbyist photographers, all people who just really enjoy doing photography. For many, it had a lot more to do with composition and light, and some of the other photographers were much more focused on capturing the soul of the moment." A magenta-haired man clad in a baby-pink suit, with a microphone in one hand and a handkerchief in the other, is one of Blake's favorite photos. "That one really moved me because it has this feeling of being completely staged. It looks like the colors have been punched up but that's not been enhanced at all."While some photographers like Monty Shane, graphic designer for Design 500, and Willy Bearden, a Memphis-based filmmaker, chose to hone in on the decaying architecture of the Delta, others like Keegan Ward focused on the candid moments that transpired on a June road trip.
One photo captured by Ward, a sophomore graphic design student at the University of Memphis, features a beaming Blake as he shares a beer with two gentlemen they met one Sunday morning.Blake laughs, remembering how he spied the two men sitting outside while most of Mississippi was sitting in the pews. "I saw them and I said, 'Pull over, I want to get a photo with these guys.'" He wanted Ward to contribute to the exhibit because he wanted a fresh look of the trail. "There are certain things that people automatically photograph and I kind of wanted a different look at things."Ward, one of the youngest photographers featured in the exhibit, says photography has been a hobby he's had since high school, so he was eager to be involved with the project when Blake approached him. "We wanted to document the 'photojourney' in a postcard fashion, exhibiting so many aspects found down the Mississippi Blues Trail. Scott, Denver, and I made several stops along the way, but my favorite series of photos is from the helicopter." One of the snapshots from the 8-minute helicopter ride offers a bank-to-bank view of the churning waters of the Mighty Mississippi. Another gives a birds-eye view of Tunica's Gold Strike Casino as the sun sets behind it. "I truly hope the guests who get to see this exhibit also share the closeness we felt with the people and the history of the Mississippi Blues," Ward says.The exhibit will be open for at least six months and Blake hopes to repeat the show every year. For more information about the Tunica RiverPark and Museum, visit tunicariverpark.com.