Whittall Pavilion Hosts a Book Talk by Michael Ford North Mississippi Homeplace: Photographs and Folklife

By Editorial Team on May 20, 2019
Courtesy of Michael Ford.
Talk: Thursday, May 23 from 12pm to 1pm

Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building
The Library of Congress, Washington, DC

“A hauntingly beautiful collection of color photographs that capture the North Mississippi world that inspired the fiction of William Faulkner, the photographs of William Eggleston, the music of Othar Turner, and the metalwork of Marion
Randolph Hall. Michael Ford’s keen eye documents people, their homes, and their landscape in exquisite detail, and his eloquent writing frames each image with loving care.”— William Ferris, author of The South in Color: A Visual Journal

In the early 1970s photographer and documentary filmmaker Michael Ford left graduate school and a college teaching position in Boston, Massachusetts, packed his young family into a van, and headed to rural Mississippi, where he spent the next four years recording everyday life through interviews, still photographs, and film. The project took him to Oxford in Lafayette County, as well as to Marshall, Panola, and Tate Counties, to a remote area north of Sardis Lake. His efforts resulted in the awardwinning documentary Homeplace (1975), but none of the still photographs from this time were ever published. With this illustrated volume, those photographs are now available and offer a valuable window onto the rural, local culture of northern Mississippi at that time.

The moving photographs in Ford’s new book illustrate his experiences as an apprentice to blacksmith Marion Randolph Hall, his visits to Hal Waldrip’s General Store in Chulahoma, a day spent with A. G. Newsom and Doc James making molasses, and Othar Turner’s barbecues accompanied by traditional fifeand-drum music. They capture the evocative landscape of the Mississippi hill country and the everyday lives of its residents. In 2013 Ford returned to his adopted homeplace, camera in hand, only to find that most everything had changed or gone. This photo essay juxtaposes the rural Mississippi of the 1970s and the mid-2010s with Ford’s personal reflections drawn from his journals, interviews, and archival notes.

In 2014 the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress acquired Michael Ford’s collection of films and photographs documenting grassroots community life in northern Mississippi. The Michael Ford Mississippi Collection includes documentation of music, farming traditions, blacksmithing, molasses making, and other aspects of community life This important collection complements existing materials about 1940s musical traditions from the Mississippi Hill Country in the center’s archive. Ford’s material, made three decades later, includes music making but expands to occupational folklore, foodways, vernacular architecture, and other arenas of cultural expression.

Thomas Jefferson Building – Whittall Pavilion is located at 10 1st Street SE.