SIN & SALVATION IN BAPTIST TOWN
SMOKE SIGNALS SIN & SALVATION IN BAPTIST TOWN GREENWOOD, MISSISSIPPI (2010 - 2012) In early 2010, I was sent to Greenwood, Mississippi on an editorial assignment. The people that I met there drew me in to show me their lives, and changed me.
Lot for Sale, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010. Watering the lawn, north Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012.
A few months after my visit, a young man from the corners in a neighborhood known as Baptist Town was shot and killed. Demetrius “Butta” Anderson, 18, was the third person in his family to be murdered. The following week I drove 16 hours to Greenwood, Mississippi for Butta’s funeral. Shoulder to shoulder, the community came together to mourn. After songs and short remembrances, the Pastor stepped up and clarified that he was not there to judge, but he spoke pointedly to the young people in attendance. “There’s no salvation in hanging out on the corner,” he said. “The only thing that is assured is a visit to a jail cell or an early grave ... if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” His admonishment wasn’t lost on the adults who nodded fervently. They have seen too much violence over the years. For the younger generation, many of them have never lost anyone so close. While many of us would like to believe that we live in a post-racial society, it is hard to imagine a place like Baptist Town without the South’s troubled history of segregation. In a city of 15,505, 50.9 percent of the black residents live below the poverty line while just 15 percent of the whites do. The real legacies of racism in the South continue to impact people economically and culturally, in persistent and often pernicious ways. I plan on launching a community-based exhibition of this work; I intend to collaborate with The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation to create a setting where people can use the photographs as a springboard to constructively dialogue about their differences and similarities.
Dialia walking home from church, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010. this SPREAD
Swamp, north Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012.
Sheriff Ricky Banks, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012.
Cat-Call, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010.
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top Viking 5K Run, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012. On the Benford familyâ€™s porch, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012.
Improvised chalkboard, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2011. Drinking games, north Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012.
Marching Band, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2011.
Dwight playing pool at Odessaâ€™s, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010.
Landscapers in north Greenwood, Mississippi, 2011. Baptist Town boys hanging out, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2011.
Quan before church, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010.
Lift, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012. Jarvis Benford at a Delta Blaze game, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012. top
top Quan waking up, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2011. Fallen soldiers after a party in north Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012.
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Winky & the boys on 4th of July, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010.
Dive at the Greenwood Country Club, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012.
Vickie cooking for her children, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010. Cooking class at The Alluvian Hotel, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2011.
August swings a child, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012. BOTTOm
Going Out, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010.
Pizza dinner at Delta Streets Ministries, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2011. Birthday party at Giardiniaâ€™s Restaurant, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2011. right Ellen after her stroke, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010.
Jabari, Quan & Ellen, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010. BOTTOM
The wake for Demetrius “Butta” Anderson, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010.
On the Corner, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010.
After two years of making documentary photographs, I have become concerned that the images function as symbols of stereotypical poverty. In order to counter this, I rented a studio so that I could photograph everyone, rich and poor, in an equal way, on the same background.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE Hi there. My name is Matt. Some of you I know, and I want to stay in touch. If you are wondering why in the hell you are holding this in your hot sticky hands, it is because I’d like to get to know you. SMOKE SIGNALS is a self-published, limited-edition zine that will appear on an occasional basis (i.e. when I have the time and money to put the next one together). In each edition, I’ll share a personal project with you, along with a short Q&A with someone who has been integral to the work’s development. I love collaborating with people, and in these modern times, we can sometimes forget that we’re all working together toward similar goals. In this digital age, the majority of my work exists as a sequence of 1s and 0s on hard drives and never makes it into the hands of anyone, let alone in a form in which I have some creative control. So that is the purpose of SMOKE SIGNALS; to make the work real, to put it in your hands, and to let you filter these images, and the sparse text, through your own experiences, and draw your own conclusions. For me, photography is an extension of seeing, it is compulsive, and it revels in the freedom to roam without limit. It is, at its deepest root, a way of filtering the cacophony of the world, of marking things as beautiful or meaningful, of stabilizing the uncertainty of memory. Thanks for lending me your eyes and attention for a moment. You may return to your regularly scheduled programming. There will be more to come.
Baptist Town tattoo, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2011.
people, I just walk around, smile and wave a lot. I try to stay in people’s good graces while I take the time to listen and see what their lives are like. MW: Are the people in this body of work working class? If not, who are they? ME: The people in this body of work are from a wide socioeconomic swath. Many of the residents of Baptist Town are unemployed, on disability or receive government checks on a monthly basis to survive. Within the neighborhood, there are also some that hold down steady jobs, but never make enough to rise above their surroundings. In close proximity are the more affluent parts of town, where the owners of the businesses live. I continue to create a catalogue of photographs examining both ends of the spectrum, and whatever falls in between.
Leonard after a funeral, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2012
interaction Interview with Michael Wichita, Director of Photography, AARP MW: When you first started the MW: How has your Mississippi project (as an assignment), how work had an effect on the way did you mentally fit it into your you relate to subjects, approach existing body of work? subjects, keep in touch with ME: At the time I wasn’t worried about where subjects? the work fit, so much as I was simply fascinated ME: Mississippi was a huge shift for me, because with the place and culture of this town, and the young people I was photographing were the openness I experienced in the Baptist really engaged in social media. I was able to Town neighborhood. I knew it fit into a larger share work with them through that outlet, to exploration of America, a means of trying to allow them to take ownership of the images in understand my country, but at the time that a way. I’ve seen my photographs on everything thought was just beginning to form for me. from Facebook pages to t-shirts made by folks It still is. in the neighborhood. In terms of approaching
MW: Where does your Mississippi work fit into the larger conversation of photography? What are its cousins or grandparents, so to speak? ME: This is a question that I’m not fully capable of answering, though I have a few points of reference. Eudora Welty’s images and writing about the south have influenced a generation of documentarians. A photographer named Bob Adelman did a book called “Down Home” about the socioeconomic divide between white and black in Alabama in the 1970s. Birney Imes has done a few projects throughout the Delta, though he is mostly known for “Juke Joints”, a more architectural catalogue of bars in the region. Eggleston photographed in Mississippi and one or two images from Eggleston’s Guide were made in Greenwood. Early on I was inspired by Eugene Richards’ portrayals of life in the Arkansas Delta, and throughout rural America. That has certainly had an influence on me. MW: Are you telling peoples’ stories in your images or creating your own narrative? ME: It’s a little bit of both. I am trying to
make myself into a conduit for other people’s experiences and stories, which is to say I try to minimize my presence in a lot of ways. At the same time, I won’t pretend the work is objective, as it is always filtered through my own personal experience. I try to take on a role of narrator, a consistent voice, which guides, reassures, or chides the viewer as necessary. MW: What do you want from the completed body of work for viewers, subjects, and your self? ME: I hope that the work functions as an historical document about this time in American history. I hope the community sees that there is more that connects them than separates them. I hope the viewers of the work achieve a deeper understanding of how our history of segregation continues to impact people today, and that while the racial divide between white and black slowly narrows, the socioeconomic gap is still enormous. MW: How are you advancing the conversation in photography about the American working class? ME: That is a great question, and if I had the answer to it, I’d probably hang up my cameras and take a much-needed nap. I grew up in a middle-class family and am trying to support my wife and two children now on the meager income of a freelance photographer. It makes me especially cognizant of how unattainable the American dream seems to be at this point in time, and how many opportunities I have been afforded that the typical working class child would not dream of. I am not actively trying to advance the conversation in photography about the documentation of the American working class, but it would be a nice by-product. So much of the work that is being produced is self-reflective of the world of photojournalism, not progressing beyond the usual tropes. I feel that more needs to be done to engage the people who are being portrayed in how they see themselves, to make their representation a more collaborative process.
about the photographer Matt Eich (b. 1986) is the oldest of four children. He was home schooled for eight years and raised in the peanut-farming town of Suffolk, Virginia. He holds a BS in photojournalism from Ohio University. Eich’s clients include National Geographic, Esquire, GQ, Harper’s, TIME, Apple, Tiffany & Company, Sentara Healthcare and many more. His work has been exhibited internationally in solo shows, group exhibitions and festivals, and is in the collections of The Portland Art Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts Houston as well as numerous private collections. Matt has been named one of PDN’s 30 Emerging Photographers to Watch, participated in the Joop Swart Masterclass and received grants from National Geographic Magazine, NPPA, ShootQ/Pictage, and the Aaron Siskind Foundation. These days he lives in Norfolk, Virginia with his family while working on long-form projects and accepting commissions of all kinds.
Austin, TX, 2013 | Ginny’s Printing
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