I came to the Mississippi Delta for the first time in February 2009, during a Press Trip about the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. I will always remember my feelings while we were driving along those winter landscapes, headed to Indianola. Everything was gray, brownish, lifeless and sad. It was heart sickening. In October 2011, when I hit the road to follow the Mississippi Blues Trail for Blues Magazine, my impression was totally different. The blooming cotton fields were my beautiful road companions. Their fluffy, snowy-like look was peaceful. The light was perfect for photographs. The more I went on, the more I discovered the Delta’s personality. My senses were wide-awake. I could hear melancholic train horns, dogs barking at midnight, thousands of birds singing in the bayou, the whisper of silence on gravel roads, and the beautiful expression of a Blues voice. I could catch the perfumes of the Delta fanning out — the fragrances of rainfall on the Kudzu vines, deep scents of the earth at night recovering from a long hot summer day, the smell of fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, and hot tamales. I could even see strange little ghosts made of dust and light, floating over the meadows near Little Zion Church—and hear old Blues tunes resonating from the cotton gin corrugated-iron roofs at Dockery Farms. Weirdly, here and there, time was playing, dancing and leaping back and forth. Past and present were moving together in a very special way. Yes—it was an emotional trip leading me to the essence of the Delta and touching my soul. Mile after mile I started personifying the Land where the Blues began, with words swirling in my mind like a song: so poor, but sparkling like a musical gem enlightening the whole world, down to earth and spiritual, poetic and intimate, authentic, different, friendly, magnetic, warm, out of time and so contemporary; talkative and silent, unemployed and active, evocative and beautiful, touching and moving to tears, empty, full, joyful and melancholic, human and not human at all, outstanding, true, deep, loving, and good. When I came back to Paris, I started writing my Mississippi Blues Trail, chapter one, (Stovall Clarksdale/Tutwiler/Vance/Dockery Farms). Looking for archives I found Marion Post Wolcott’s abundant southern depression era photos. During four years, from 1937 to 1941, the Farm Security Administration hired this talented young photographer. During this time she crisscrossed the remote corners of America, traveling from Vermont to Mississippi, from Kentucky to Montana. She took thousands of pictures, showing two-thirds of America what the other third looked like. Choosing and downloading her images on the Library of Congress website, I noticed that Marion Post Wolcott had been to the Delta in 1939–1940: Clarksdale, Scott, Benoit, Perthshire, Greenville, Hopson Plantation, Mileston, and Belzoni. Some of these places were very familiar to me because I had been there and taken photographs. Holding her images and mine I was moved. A strong link was binding these pictures, creating a new story. One more time, past and present were echoing. I started working on this new series and called it The Vibrations of Time in the Mississippi Delta, a Tribute to Marion Post Wolcott. Through the intangible depth of time and its inexorable passing, the temporal vibrations of the Delta could flutter again, reflected in Marion’s beautiful photographs. –Beatrice Chauvinbbio
Bio: I am a French photographer and I live in Paris. When I was a toddler, my father was sent on a mission on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. So, during 4 years, we all lived on the military base. Much later, I realized how strongly these days had molded me. Yes certainly, the bright light of the Chesapeake Bay, the rhythm-and-blues songs my parents would dance to, the taste of peanut butter, maple syrup and pancakes, the beautiful music of the American language, the eerie-though-friendly jungle that had been my playground with its ravine and entangled lianas – all these elements combined to let grow what I call “my American roots”.
The nostalgia of these multi-colored emotions drew me back to the United States many times, from my twenties, up to now. There, on the land of my childhood, I have always the feeling to be back home, even if France “est mon pays”. During one of my trips, I fell in love with Memphis and the Mississippi Delta and made these places my new source of inspiration. Thanks to my family of Southern friends, I come back every year, work for the B.B. King Summer Camp kids, give guest talks, have exhibitions, create new projects about the Blues, and so on. UNBROKEN spread out of my mind, a few days after I came back home, last October.