Thursday, July 26, 2012

Magdalena Sole Workshop in the Delta

Honorary Southern Photographer Magdalena Solé is offering a week-long workshop in the Mississippi Delta this October 17-24, based in Clarksdale, MS, about an hour and a half down Highway 61 from Memphis and an hour and a half west of Oxford on Highway 278.

Full details are here. 

Solé has had a rich and diverse photographic career, but she is best known Around Here for her portfolio made in the Mississippi Delta, published as New Delta Rising, from the University of Mississippi Press.

 Solé knows this area well, having spent a year interviewing and photographing hundreds of residents in the Delta. The chance to work with Solé in the Delta should be a real opportunity for those who do participate. 

The Press rightly describes  New Delta Rising as "an exploration of Mississippi Delta life and a celebration of the indefatigable Delta people who live there."

The Press notes that in these images, Solé captures the "personal dignity, resilience, and resourcefulness, along with the closeness of family and community" of folks who live in this distincrive part of Mississippi.

There is, in Solé's images a sense of "their strength and character and spirit---a spirit bound up in a deeply rooted sense of place and shown in their compassion for one another."

All these things are good to know, and are true, at least to my eye, of Solé's work.  One sign of their truthfulness is that Solé is making available two tuition scholarships for people who currently reside in the Mississippi Delta.

So people in this workshop from outside the South will be working side by-side with people for whom the Delta is home.

But you wouldn't know this if all you knew was what you learned from reading the blurb on Solé's flyer for this workshop, written by one Rick Bragg.

In his words, the Delta is a place where you can "stand at the edge of one of those vast, brown fields" and "feel like you could walk and walk, walk into your own old age, and meet your Maker out there, somewhere, kicking up dust."

People who come here, in Bragg's view, "say they have tumbled back in time, but I do not think that is true. They have merely slipped sideways into a place they do not recognize, and may never understand."

The Delta, says Bragg, "is not, despite appearances, the end of nowhere. . . .  In the open land between the towns and the wide places in the road, dark drops like a lid on a box, and that very isolation has shaped life here, held it, and marked it deeply and sometimes horribly."

Here, says Bragg, "the poverty hits you between the eyes like a hurled chunk of loose asphalt."

Who is this trash written for? I have a terrible feeling that folks who are attracted to Solé's workshop by this kind of drivel will not arrive in the Delta prepared to respect the dignity of folks who live there, or to appreciate their "resilience and resourcefulness," but to visit a Museum of the Strange and the Weird and the Bizarre.

Oh well, the people of the Delta will survive this brief invasion.

And if the workshop participants read William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses and Absalom, Absalom before arriving, and learn from Solé how to see what is really in front of them when they get there, maybe, just maybe, they will will do some work that will be worthy of our consideration     .


  1. Well John, I think that really is the mindset of many. Rare is the outsider who fits in and does not bloviate about either the exoticness or the idiocy of all that surrounds them in this, new to them, environment.
    Living in a small southern town, and being an 'outsider' there myself, I have watched this over and over again. People come from somewhere else to live or visit and immediately act as though 'the locals' don't have the brains 'God gave a chicken.' They reinforce this perception by expressing the feeling that life in town begins and ends with their arrival and departure. Fortunately, they often leave before they do real damage.

  2. Ironically, this guy, it turns out, is not an outsider. Go here -- I gather he is a Professional Southerner, i.e. one who thinks he knows how to interpret the South to outsiders. Oh, well, go figure.