What started as a foggy February morning at The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park campus in Long Beach is now a lasting image made into a mural representing the scenic photography of noted Biloxi Sun Herald photographer and Southern Miss alumnus, Tim Isbell.
Using landscape photography as a means of relaxation, Isbell intended to capture the foggy campus images as a gift for his wife, Judy, whom he met while attending Hinds Community College in 1979. The couple then attended the Southern Miss School of Mass Communication, where they graduated in 1983 and then married later that same year.
Having one of his images preserved as a mural on the second floor of the university’s Fleming Education Center, Isbell says he feels honored to oblige his alma mater.
“Southern Miss produces really talented people whether it is photography or polymers,” said Isbell. “I would challenge the university to use and demonstrate the talents of their graduates. When I was a student at Southern Miss, I liked seeing the work of those who had gone before me. For me, it served as an inspiration.”
Inspiration and beauty is what Isbell hopes students, faculty and staff gain from seeing the foggy oaks image as they walk to and from class. “I hope the mural at the Gulf Park campus gives people a sense of the beauty of the campus and the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he said.
Isbell, like many along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Being a photographer for the Sun Herald, a job he has been in for nearly 28 years, and documenting the devastation caused by the storm, Isbell made a promise to himself to showcase the beauty of the gulf coast which so many people call home. Isbell plans to one day share his beautiful images in a photographic book titled, “The Coast.”
Among Isbell’s collection of photography over the past 30 years, his work includes Civil War battlefields, sporting events, a nine-month photographic study of the Vietnamese people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and a variety of other subjects done for his job at the Sun Herald, for his books and for his leisure.
Prior to the mural, Isbell returned to Southern Miss to teach photography and to be recognized for his work. In 1996, Isbell was asked to teach the university’s photojournalism curriculum as the “photojournalist in residence.” Over 10 years later, in 2007, Isbell was named to the Southern Miss School of Mass Communication and Journalism Hall of Fame.
“What I photograph when I am off work is without a doubt things that need to be appreciated,” said Isbell. “I usually get up before dawn each morning to shoot sunrises or scenic photos that celebrate the beauty of the Coast. I see my photography as having gone full circle. Although I'm known for my journalism photos, some of the first pictures I was proud of were of landscapes.”
Thinking back to that foggy day on the Gulf Park campus, Isbell said he needed a main subject in the foreground to best show the depth of the fog against the background. In scouting locations on the coast, Isbell felt the numerous live oak trees on the Gulf Park campus would convey the image he had in mind.
“With my scenic photography, I maintain that God provides the color, light and content. I just provide the composition,” he said.