Books | September 2016
For decades, writers and photographers alike have attempted to capture the complex atmosphere of the American South. While it has been a fascinating subject matter and source of exploration for so many over the years, perhaps the region’s most dedicated and personally invested documentarian has been William Ferris, whom readers will recognize from his previous works including Give My Poor Heart Ease and The Storied South. From the tender age of just twelve, Ferris has been capturing the world around him ceaselessly, one of the results of which is this striking and gracious volume containing 100 of Ferris’s color photos of the part of the world so near to his heart.
The book opens with a captivating foreword by Tom Rankin who relates a memory of a years-ago train ride with William Ferris, who he affectionately refers to as Bill.
During the course of the ride, both men find plenty of fodder for conversation as they gaze out the windows of the train at the landscape of rural Mississippi, home to a flurry of memories for each. “When Bill Ferris and I talk, it is so often about the confluence of place and memory, about the same sorts of connective tissue he has always recognized no matter how far he has to wind and twist to find the common associations,” Rankin writes. “Sometimes the lines are straight and sharp and easy to see, and other times Bill finds a way to illustrate a complex diagram with the many overlaps he knows and feels.” In many ways, this singular thought captures the essence of The South in Color.
In another particularly telling moment, Rankin ponders the reason for Ferris’s embarking on documenting the South in those early days. “I really don’t think Bill knew exactly why he was making so many pictures, often carrying two cameras, one with black-and-white film and the other with color slide film,” he writes. “To be sure, he knew he was ‛documenting,’ and he confidently knew by the early 1960’s that his work was about showing us and telling us intimate details of ordinary lives, helping continue James Agee’s ideas in praise of ‛human actuality,’ the ways in which all the details are infinitely important.” It is in these brilliant details that we find the grace, sensitivity, and utmost truth of these undeniably personal images. Ferris’s connectedness to this land and these people is impossible to ignore.
It is the striking images themselves, though, that dominate this book and in all honesty, they can only speak for themselves. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Ferris has achieved greatness once again with these authentic, telling, and complex photos. From the farm where his life began to places, people, and nature across Mississippi and the South in general, these pictures span a range of subject matter but all share the commonality of imparting the story, the essence, and the very soul of the South. In some way, this book and all works by this undisputed Southern expert are a poem about our undeniably one-of-a-kind part of the world. From the scenic to the tumultuous, the bitter to the sweet, there is no doubt that these images will stir memories and feelings in each of us while provoking thoughts about our beloved South past, present, and future, for all.
The South in Color explores the region’s past while celebrating the
special qualities of the Southern experience
Review by Shana Raley-Lusk