A Church in the Mississippi Delta. What do you see?

April 15, 2014  •  2 Comments

The Mississippi Delta has become one of my favorite destinations over the last four or five years and each time I go, I always make it a point to "check up" on some of the places that I have been watching during my travels.   Sometimes I find that a place I have been watching is being restored but more often than not, I find a lot are being left for nature to reclaim, man no longer able to keep up with the decay as they gradually crumble into the ground waiting to be discovered by future generations.

Some of my favorite subjects in the Delta are the old country churches, many of them built by plantation owners for their workers early in the 20th century.  Some of them much like the church at Mt Helena Plantation have already had their fate determined while others have managed to somehow stay intact.  Then there are those like the church near Marks, Mississippi that sits beside a swamp fed by one of the many creeks and waterways formed when the Mississippi River changed course over the years.

I have been watching this church for the last several years, and photographed it several times just so I could keep up with how it was doing.  I have never gotten anything much worth using, but every time I was in the area I would ride by and make a few photos, never expecting to really have anything to show.  And that has been the case each time.... until this last time.

I had been to the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale earlier in the day and after leaving the festival I began the long two hour trek, passing this church on my way back home.  As I always do, I turned in, looked for a few moments at the cemetery with the sinking graves that sit in front of the church and followed the worn tire paths that were lined with graves on both sides from almost a century ago leading to the church.

As I pulled up in front of the church I happened to notice this tree that was beginning to bud out as the weather warmed.  I walked over to the tree and then looked back at the church watching the light reflect across the front of the building from the late afternoon sun.  As I looked up at the decaying church steeple through the tree that was coming back to life after a long winter, the photo of this church I had been searching for the last few years was suddenly right in front of me.

As a photographer I often get the question, "What kind of camera do you use?" or the statement, "You must have a nice camera," or any of the other the dozen or so comments that people often make while looking at my work.  It is usually because they think it is some sort of magical process that occurs as a product of the camera.  So many times they fail to realize that rarely a photo just happens.   It often requires multiple trips or planning for the right time of day or a combination of a myriad of other factors that all determine the outcome of the final product.  And in the middle of all of this is the "story," often placed right out front but many times it is left to the viewer's imagination.

This photo of the old church is like that.  I have my own ideas about the "story" that exists in this photo but I would like to hear what you think the story is.  Since you have spent this much time reading this post, how about taking a few more minutes and leave a comment below and tell me what "story" you see in this photo.  

Cycle of LifeCycle of Life


Maybe the tree, being rooted in the cemetery, is a metaphor for all the spirits reaching toward the church from the past. Perhaps it's just mother nature reaching toward the old church, preparing to welcome the church back to the ground from which it sprang up.
As usual, I appreciate the talent it takes to create the image. It takes that " good eye" for the right photograph, not just a good camera.
I, too, love old churches and cemeteries and read stories into them. The tree is budding with new life while the church is slowly dying from neglect and the cemetery holds the remains of those long gone. The three stages of life... perfect!
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