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North Mississippi Homeplace

Michael Ford | United States

Spring plowing, College Hill, Miss. 1972.

The system for plowing a mule was simple, rugged and effective. It had been refined over 5000 years. The collars rest on the broad shoulders of the mule to pad the hames . The hames are two rigid curved pieces linked together at top and bottom so to be flexible and provide attachment points for the traces. Trace chains run back behind each mule to a singletree. The singletrees go to a doubletree which connect to the plow. The curved beam of the plow focuses all that power on the plow point. The hard earth simply parts with a hissing sound.

These photographs were made as research and a study of the land and the people in North Mississippi Hill Country during pre-production for the film documentary, HOMEPLACE. Photography was the bridge of trust allowing me to capture the day-to-day life of a disappearing culture.I apprenticed to Mr. Hall an 84-year old Blacksmith in Oxford giving me unique access to old time people working mules to farm their homeplaces. The film was released in 1975 and was received favorably.

The Mississippi project began in 1972 and was re-awakened in 2013. An archive of over 1000 photographs and 16,000 feet of 16mm film, and sound recordings were created during the production of Homeplace in 1972-75.

Since 2013 more than seven trips to photograph and videotape have been made. The two era’s images were cataloged then integrated. The present archive contains 5892 still images and is held by The American Folklife Center of The Library of Congress.

North Mississippi Homeplace was published by The Library of Congress and the University of Georgia Press in 2019.

Capitol Hill in Washington, DC is my home. I am a writer, documentary photographer/ filmmaker with Yellow Cat Productions since 1980.

Yellow Cat Productions has produced a wide variety of programming for many well-known clients. But my real joy was making our Independent documentaries. HOMEPLACE was a folklife documentary made in North Mississippi in 1975. Other Mississippi films include JUKE, and BILL DUNLAP: The Painter’s Landscape. Further afield are independent productions of a Diola manhood ritual in Senegal, Holy Week in Seville, the Ahka people of Northern Thailand and projects in Russia, Tanzania, France, Germany and The Gambia.

Still photography was always a part of my life. Although after leaving RIT my professional career has been behind a motion camera rather than stills. The photographs I made were totally personal, not shown to anyone. That changed in 2013 when I started working in stills as a preferred medium.

My three long-term photographic projects are Mississippi, Senegambia and Capitol Hill.

The Mississippi project began in 1972 and was re-awakened in 2013. An archive of over 1000 photographs and 16,000 feet of 16mm were created during the production of Homeplace in 1972-75. Since 2013 more than seven trips to photograph and videotape have been made. The two era’s images were cataloged then integrated. The present archive contains 5892 still images and is held by The American Folklife Center of The Library of Congress.

The photographs were made as a study of the land and the people during pre-production for the film documentary. Photography turned into a bridge of trust allowing me to capture the day-to-day life of a disappearing culture in Homeplace. The film was released in 1975 and was received favorably.

North Mississippi Homeplace was published by The Library of Congress and the University of Georgia Press in 2019.

BFA, Photography, Rochester Institute of Technology.

MS, Film, Boston University.

History & Aesthetics of Photography with Beaumont Newhall.

George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.

 

Michael Ford

Yellow Cat Productions, Inc.

505 11th St, SE

Washington, DC 20003

Michael@yellowcat.com

www.yellowcat.com

202 543 2221

These images reflect my relationship over forty years with a small patch of earth and the people who made it special.

In 1972 a series of random events led me to a place that I could not have conceived of, kept me for several years, and captured me again forty years later. I wound up in a time bubble in the north Mississippi hill country, the Yoknapatawpha of William Faulkner. It was foreign territory but I learned and was given the luck, or grace perhaps, to find my way to Mr. Hall an 84 year old blacksmith and become his apprentice. With his guidance I was given entrée to a whole new world.

For months I traveled the dirt roads north of Sardis. The area north of the lake was as remote as one could get. This was the America captured by Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, or Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration’s photography program in the 1930s and ’40s. Except it was alive in front of me. The colors and softness of the land, combined with the beauty of the light, were moving beyond description.

I did my best to capture what I saw. The photographs then sat for four decades.

In 2009 I began digitizing. In 2013 The Library of Congress acquired the collection. When I returned to the hill country later that year I found myself shooting stills instead of video.

In 2019 North Mississippi Homeplace was published by the Library of Congress and the University of Georgia Press.

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