From 2010-2013, photographer Betty Press had the state of Mississippi in her sights. Recording life in the rural South with every click of the camera, she knew she had something special. The photos she captured are now in two online shows, which are the first to present her new project "Mississippi: The Place That I Live."
The first online show can be viewed at aCurator.com and the second can be found at OxfordAmerican.org.
The project collectively reveals a slightly surreal, hidden narrative of Mississippi’s landscape and the indomitable spirit of the people: sometimes fanciful, humorous, quirky, mysterious and at times disturbing.
Press, an adjunct professor of photography in the Department of Art and Design at The University of Southern Mississippi is a native of Nebraska, but has lived in Mississippi for several years. She explained how this new project came to be.
“I grew up in rural Nebraska in a religious and conservative family, left for college and got exposed to the rest of the world by traveling around the world with my husband and later working as a photojournalist for eight years in Africa,” said Press.
“Because of this I bring a singular perspective to portraying the Southern black and white experience, which is so intertwined, and keeps the South a unique region in our country. After several years of living in Mississippi but not feeling it is my “place,” I decided to deal with this uneasiness by exploring the state, still largely rural and agricultural, through a series of road trips.”
In preparing for this project, she traveled throughout the state, visiting small towns and communities and talking with locals. She attended festivals that celebrated music and Southern culture. Through this project and the images she captured, she hopes to shed light on this often-misunderstood state.
She said that the images hint at the complicated history that race and religion have played in forming Mississippi and how they still affect lives today.
Press’ book of photos and African proverbs by Annetta Miller, “I Am Because We are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb, won the 2012 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award in photography, an award once won by Eudora Welty. Her book was also featured by National Public Radio and the Library of Congress.
For more information about the work of Betty Press and the Department of Art and Design, call 601.266.6788.