Jefferson Davis Campus Fine Art Gallery hosts Mississippi photo exhibit

Photo of “Mother and Daughter, Redneck Festival, Baxterville” by Betty Press

The Fine Art Gallery at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Jefferson Davis Campus will host the works of fine-art documentary photographer Betty Press of Hattiesburg August 28-September 21, with a closing reception on September 21 at noon. The show, “Finding Mississippi,” expresses Press’ experiences after moving to Mississippi.

Turning her lens to the local region in “Finding Mississippi,” she explains that exploring and photographing is a personal journey undertaken to better understand the past and present.

“In time, the images may reveal more of this place where I now live,” she said.

In this series, she chose to use black-and-white film and vintage cameras, which she thought were best suited to capture “evidence of the past.”

“The resulting imperfections and soft focus serve as metaphors for how landscape, race and religion have played a part in the complicated history of Mississippi and still affect lives today,” she said.

Press said her travels have led her to bring a singular perspective to documenting 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 explore the state, still largely rural and agricultural, through a series of road trips,” she said.

She visited small communities listed in the Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer, often with unusual names like “Love,” “Darling” and “Expose.”

“The landscape away from the Coast is unrelenting in its flatness or undulating pine-covered hills, punctuated by small communities with their ubiquitous churches and well-kept cemeteries, and county seats with often imposing courthouses, always flanked by a Civil War soldier on guard,” she said.  “If people are out and about, I stop to talk, that easy Southern hospitality and politeness coming through even with outsiders.”

She also attended local festivals celebrating music and culture, like the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale and the Hot Tamale Festival in Greenville.

She cites Eudora Welty, who wrote from a strong sense of place, as her visual and literary muse. Calling herself a recorder of real life, Welty traveled around Mississippi during the Depression, taking photographs for the Works Progress Administration.

“She photographed not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain,” Press said. “I, too, am not trying to change or improve the image of Mississippi but simply shedding some light on this often-misunderstood state.”

The exhibit is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Monday–Thursday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m.–1 p.m.  For more information, contact gallery director Cecily Cummings at cecily.cummings@mgccc.edu or 228.897.3909.

Photo of “Pig Races, Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale” by Betty Press