Book focuses on Mississippi Delta through profiles and pictures

by Lynn Lofton

Published: April 29,2012

Tags: Barry H. Smith, Mississippi Delta, New Delta Rising, Tom Lassiter

“New Delta Rising” by Tom Lassiter and Barry H. Smith

Most of us like big, beautiful picture books; usually called coffee table books because they’re the kind of books we like to display. They don’t have to have a lot of words as the photographs usually tell the story. How many words have been written about and photos taken of the Mississippi Delta? Still, it continues to provide material as the place referred to as the most Southern place on earth.

This swath of flat, fertile land along the Mississippi River annually attracts thousands of tourists, photographers and writers to visit the haunting region of open fields, ramshackle houses, juke joints and blues music. Award-winning photographer Magdalena Sole’ spent a year interviewing and photographing hundreds of Delta people, finding light in hidden spaces and giving voice to unspoken words. In their narratives, Tom Lassiter and Barry H. Smith bring into sharp focus the moral strength of the individuals and the spirit they give to the place.

In the book’s introduction, Rick Bragg writes, “It is not, despite appearances, the end of nowhere. The empty fields are its destination. The weeds let you know where one crop ends and another begins. While other man-made places were covered in people and concrete, here it was the dirt that mattered, and there was just so much of it, between porch lights, and schools, and hospitals. There still is. In the open land between the towns and the wide places in the road, dark drops like a lid on a box, and that very isolation has shaped life here, held it, and marked it deeply and sometimes horribly.”

In her year in the Delta, Sole’ obviously established a connection with local people as she documented their resilience, families, faith and sense of community. The book contains nearly one hundred stunning color photographs and stories. A New Yorker whose photography projects span the globe, Sole’ says of her Delta experience, “Sometimes as a photographer you are lucky and make a friend here or there, but most often you arrive as an outsider, and that is how you leave. But, I was gradually so absorbed into the fabric of life there that I felt not like an outsider but rather like the family member who happened to have the camera.”

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