Native Mississippian brings people and places to life in photos

Born in the Sumner in 1928, Oraien Catledge spent most of his life as a social worker in the Mississippi Delta. He was a tireless advocate for the blind throughout the South. Near the end of a long career in this profession, he took up photography as an avocation. It suited him well. His book of photography, simply titled “Oraien Catledge Photographs,” exhibits his talent and insight into the lives of others and their conditions in captivating black-and-white images.

“Through his social work with the blind, Oraien Catledge helped those who could not see the world as sighted,” says Scott Naugle, owner of Pass Christian Books. “As a photographer, he allows the rest of us to see through his sensitivity, illuminating people and places that we may not understand in full daylight. Catledge reduces a bit of blindness in all of us, suggesting sight into the shadows of souls sequestered to the windowless corners.”

Catledge, a resident of Atlanta, will be in Ocean Springs June 4 to accept an award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters (MIAL). A book signing and reception to honor him and other 2011 winners will be held at Shearwater Pottery.

Naugle, who serves on the board of MIAL, spoke with Catledge about the upcoming trip to his home state. “Gracious and humble, Mr. Catledge, in Atlanta these past few years, looks forward to returning to Mississippi to attend the awards ceremony,” he said. “’I’ve been trying to get back to Mississippi for years,’ he told me. ‘My son will drive me.’”

In the introduction to the book, Mississippi author Richard Ford writes, “Catledge’s remarkable photographs insist on the world as a movingly shared place. They seize their subjects with a palpable and seemingly inexhaustible relish as if the photographer has found each subject’s face, expression, physical attitude and posture full of dense complexity.”

Principally a photographer of people, Catledge’s sensuous, fastidious black-and-white work documents the landscapes and cityscapes of Mississippi and New Orleans. He is also known for his photographs of the working class lives of the Cabbagetown neighborhood in center-city Atlanta.

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