Since the early 1980s, Jane Rule Burdine has lived in Taylor, a Mississippi community just south of Oxford. Born and raised in Greenville, Burdine has spent decades photographing the environment and denizens of her native Delta. With the help of editor Wendy McDaris, Burdine has published with the University Press of Mississippi a beautiful collection of her Delta photographs in “Delta Deep Down.”
Although they had not met before this project, novelist Steve Yarbrough, himself a Deltan, felt instant kinship with Burdine when shown her work and agreed to write an introduction. In the introduction, she writes, “Most Deltans…are hyper-aware of their physical surroundings.” This may be true for many, and is certainly true in Burdine’s case.
Upon opening the book, one first sees endpapers printed with a photograph of rich, brown soil, freshly turned, and this puts one on notice that the photographs here go deeper than the surface. There is history in every face, every abandoned building, rusted machinery, even the crops in the field bear testimony to a past not long past. These photographs speak to the viewer, encouraging one to linger and imagine the life, the story or spark memories of one’s own. A mother and daughter, a couple dressed to the nines and clearly feeling strong and beautiful, two old men on a store porch — one black, one white — an older nurse in her uniform and sock feet, children at play; all of these are captured with barriers down.
And Burdine finds beauty everywhere in the Delta: a red uniform hanging on a wire fence; vines crawling across the floor of an abandoned house; stubble in a field; and, of course, bales of cotton. Keenly aware of light, some of the photographs seem to glow, almost radiate warmth from the page such as one of golden stubble in a field and another of shattered glass in an automobile.
“Delta Deep Down” is like taking a road trip through the Delta with all the time in the world to see everything and take many side-trips on the way. Few have the ability to observe in such a way, but Burdine’s “hyper-awareness” takes all those detours and fleeting moments so readers can wander in her path at their leisure.