Birney Imes‘s rural Mississippi
“Found These Pictures”, a new series by Birney Imes merges the past and present of one of the most important photographers of the American South. In these timeless images, on view at A Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans, Imes focuses exclusively on the residents of rural Mississippi, portraying them with an intimate honesty in moments both mundane and profound. The images of “Found These Pictures”, simultaneously old and new, embody the ever-present paradox that defines the corner of the world that both the artist and his subjects call home: a place where, to quote William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
In 2018, as Birney Imes was approaching retirement as publisher of Columbus, Mississippi’s Commercial Dispatch, the newspaper that has been in his family now for four generations, he took a nostalgic tour through the archive of his early black-and-white work. There he discovered an image he says reignited his love for the medium he had put aside two decades earlier when he assumed editorship of his hometown newspaper.
“Looking at the negative over the light table, I fell in love again with this medium, not only its ability to preserve a moment in time, but how it can distill magic from the everyday,” said Birney Imes. “As I continued to look, I found other simple, straightforward compositions I had passed over in favor of more complex, layered arrangements. It was as though there was another body of work waiting to be discovered. My love for these new images is partially rooted in a craving for simplicity, something I think comes with age. I am also affected by the opportunity they provide to revisit this time and these places and be reminded of the grace and generosity the subjects of these images shared with me back then.”
For more than 20 years in the 1970s and 80s, Birney Imes, whose photographs have been collected in three monographs – “Juke Joint”, “Whispering Pines” and “Partial to Home”, roamed the countryside of his native Mississippi photographing the people and places he encountered along the way. Working in both black-and-white and color, Imes’s photographs take viewers inside juke joints and dilapidated restaurants scattered across that landscape. There he introduces the viewer, as one writer put it, “to the strange and marvelous qualities of these local gathering spots.”