Last weekend I went to local Clarksdale bluesman Robert Bilbo Walker's funeral, who sadly died in California at the age of 80 years old. I met 'Bilbo' for the first time last October in Clarksdale, and got to play with him several times, as well as having him turn up at my hotel room, and offering for my father and I to go on tour with him (!) He was that kinda guy. Always full of surprises, hilarious stories and a character unlike any other.
The funeral was an experience in itself, which I thought it might be. 2 hours long with the most incredible gospel band, his daughters wearing the most amazing sequinned jackets, and people going up to the stage to pay tribute and give anecdotes, mostly music related, which involving Bilbo, usually meant a cause to laugh!
In the evening, a tribute jam was held at Red's Blues Club, which was heavily attended by friends, family and fans alike, with lots of great music and dancing. Here are some images from the evening, which will form part of my ongoing project on Clarksdale, MS...
Have been in the States 5 weeks now, working hard on my Clarksdale project, as well as drumming with lots of the local blues musicians. Here's some of the images so far...
I arrived in the Southern States last Thursday, landing in Baton Rouge to attend the Louisiana book festival over the weekend, before heading North up Highway 61 to Mississippi, where I will be spending the majority of my 3 month stay to work on my project in Clarksdale. This is now my third trip in just over a year, and it feels good to be here for a while this time. Here's a few photos from the past week as a little taster of some of the places I've been to/things I've seen...
Driving North through Mississippi to Clarksdale on Monday, I stopped at Onward, the birthplace of the Teddy Bear, where in 1902, ex United States President Theodore 'Teddy' Roosevelt refused to shoot a captive bear at nearby Smedes Plantation. There is now a tourist welcome centre to mark this piece of history, as seems to be the case in much of Mississippi, a place where stories and legacy permeate all aspects of the landscape, which on the surface can often seem devoid of life.
Excited to announce I will be returning to the Mississippi Delta this 'Fall' to continue my ongoing story on the town of Clarksdale. This will be my longest trip to date - several months - and I'm so looking forward to going back & getting stuck in.
Serious amount of material forming now, and it's hard not to share much of it with you, but I hope it'll be worth the wait...
Watch this space.
Ex-mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi, Bill Luckett, outside Ground Zero, the club he co-founded with actor Morgan Freeman in 2000, and opened in 2001. 'We were in there together using shovels to clean it out. The building was 96 years old when we bought it. It was in a real bad way. The roof was leaking, the floors were rotted.'
'The one thing that gives me a lot of joy is the fact that you can sit on the porch of Ground Zero Blues Club and meet the world. We're considered by the State tourism board as the number one city in Mississippi for numbers of International tourists. This is the middle of nowhere but it's pretty much the centre of the musical world. If it wasn't for the Delta blues, we wouldn't have had the 'British invasion bands.''
A few cool things to announce...!
Firstly is that I am having an Exhibition at Tavistock Arts Centre (The Wharf) from Sat 8th July - Fri 18th August of Landscapes from the American South, including some of my latest images from Mississippi. The art gallery is open Monday - Saturday from 10am - 4.30pm, as well as most evenings when there are events on.
Secondly is that I have had 4 Images shortlisted for the Royal Photographic Society International Print Exhibition, which runs every year. All were taken during my trip to the States in October, and all are from Mississippi also.
'Til the next Blog post...I've just done 2 in one day so that's my quota for a little while!
April saw a brilliant return trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi, a place I have fallen in love with and become fascinated by. Its music, people, sense of freedom & energy is addictive, and both times in the last six months has left me wanting to go back for more, and for longer, to immerse myself fully. Every day whilst there I am inspired to be out making photographs for my ongoing body of work on the evolution of blues music in the area and its symbiotic relationship with International tourism, whilst night times provide the chance to be out playing the drums with local musicians, a pattern I wish I could live every day back home in the UK!
I stayed two weeks in the town, the end of my trip concluding with Clarksdale's annual Juke Joint Blues Festival, now in its fourteenth year, which brings an extra 20,000 people to the 15,000 population rural town.
It was interesting to spend time in Clarksdale during the build up to the festival, as it gave me perspective as to how the town changes with the huge increase of performances and visitors over the weekend. I had imagined it to become incredibly crowded, but being spread out over such a vast area, the vibe was still a relaxed and very enjoyable one, the Southern feel that Clarksdale does best. With most of my new friends in the town being musicians, the most obvious difference to me was how crazy their schedules were, with some playing over 10 shows during the weekend, running from venue to venue with equipment!
The festival is a great chance for local musicians to earn some much needed extra income from the boost in tourism, whilst providing the opportunity to play to new audiences from across the US and further afield.
As always, this is just a flavour of the images I took, which are starting to form a rather extensive body of work now. This is a project I am very passionate about, and one I don't intend to rush. I see it as a long term story, with many layers to explore, as the town & people are constantly evolving. However, I already have several ideas how I want to present the project further down the line, and whilst I plan for it to be long-term, I will ensure I keep showing images from it as I go along.
So I'm not too sure where time has disappeared to since I returned from America in October, but I have been busy editing images, researching exhibition venues, transcribing interviews, as well as making plans for a return trip, which I'm pleased to say I am going to be doing next month (April), when the prestigious blues 'Juke Joint Festival' will be taking place in Clarksdale, MS.
During the past few months, I have also had time to really analyse & refine what the story is here, as my pre-conceived ideas for the trip in October and its reality were quite different. I had initially planned for the story to cover the whole of the 'Blues Trail' area from Memphis to New Orleans, looking at the way in which the music has become such an important economy to the two big Cities, as well as the State of Mississippi (arguably the poorest State in the Country), bringing in large amounts of International 'blues' tourists on a regular basis, who might not otherwise have much reason to visit. The story also set out to look at the ongoing fragility surrounding blues music's existence and its uncertain future, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the opportunities it currently provides for the younger generation.
Whilst I still made the journey as planned, the majority of the trip was spent in Mississippi, as the people & landscape connected with me like nowhere else, and it was hard to leave an area that clearly had so much depth to it. My aims and objectives of the story remained the same, but the main notable decision I have made since returning to the UK is that I will be focusing and presenting images solely from the town of Clarksdale (MS) and its surrounding areas, rather than trying to depict and tell a story covering the vast distance from Memphis to New Orleans.
Essentially, the main reason for this is that I want both you & I to be able to get much closer to the story, to really connect with my subjects and understand the history & current social,economic & visual landscape of where I am working. This is only possible when focusing on one place or area, which is why I am returning specifically to Clarksdale. Without this focus and intentional decision to leave out the other photographs from the trip in October, the result I fear would just look like snaps from a Southern road trip, which is not what this is. I want the imagery to be Documentary Photography, not Travel Photography! I want you, the viewer, to be able to get close to the story, to feel a connection with both the place and subjects , as if you are there too.
Whilst I did create A LOT of content - images, audio & video, during my trip in October, I decided there & then that I wanted to return to the area at a time when the town of Clarksdale became most alive with music, which I know is the case with Juke Joint Festival, as so many people I met talked about it, and the buzz around it was palpable. So this is what I am going to be doing next month, and I'm very much looking forward to it! I'm also happy that I'm now focused on where my story is based, as whilst Clarksdale is a small rural town in Mississippi, it has a history and being that speaks much greater than its size.
NB ** As well as my Photography, I am also a semi-professional Musician and teacher, and have played the Drums since the age of 11. It is fair to say it is my other passion, as well as contributing to my livelihood, and is very much interlinked with why I chose to do this project, as I have a great love and appreciation for the music, as well as an interest in its rich history, and concern for its future.
Blues drumming is not easy, if done well. It's just that it's made to look easy! I got to play 6 times or so back in October - at both jams & gigs, and am hoping to be able to play again on my upcoming trip. Playing with the local musicians was a great way to break down barriers, to connect on a greater level that was beyond me being just 'the photographer', and them my 'subjects'. Many musicians feature within this project, people I am now lucky to call my friends.
Having returned to England over three weeks ago from a great trip to the Southern States of America where I embarked on my latest new project Where the Southern Crosses The Dog - supported using public funding by Arts Council England - I am now sitting in my local library, listening to the rain outside (and trying not to get distracted by the woman opposite who is on her twelth bar of chocolate already), beginning the huge (but fun!) task of editing the work.
The trip started in Memphis, TN, the beginning of the Mississippi Delta, and after a much needed good night's sleep, the next day I had to hit the ground running, travelling almost 2 hours out of the city down to a town in Mississippi to visit 84 year old bluesman Leo Bud Welch, who I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to meet and photograph at his home. *(Leo now has a busy gigging schedule, his musical career beginning just two years ago...)
Leo, born and raised in Sabougla, Mississippi, has always played music, be it in church or purely for himself, since the age of 13. Having worked on a farm and as a lumberjack his whole life, things unexpectedly changed in 2013, when friend Vencie Vernado (now his Manager) booked Leo to play at his 50th birthday party. Knowing he was a talented musician and aware of Leo's potential, Vencie recorded him playing on his phone, subsequently sending these recordings to record labels in the months to come. He quickly got Leo signed, releasing his debut album 'Sabougla Voices' less than a year later in 2014, just before Leo's 82nd birthday.
Vencie, a former army veteran, has always loved music too, but had never been involved in the business. It is therefore truly remarkable what him and Leo have managed to achieve together in such a short space of time since their meeting in 2013. Leo has now recorded TWO albums with a third coming out next Spring (2017), collaborating with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, he has performed and continues to play all over the world, boarding a plane for the first time in his life, and soon, even has a film coming out about him, which I can't wait to watch.
There is a lot more to say about Leo's story, as well as a lot of images/video/sound from the afternoon I spent with him, this is just a tiny taster...so if you like what you're reading/seeing, watch this space for more to come!
PS you can visit Leo's website to go and hear some of his music :-)
Excited to announce that next month I will be travelling to the Southern States to work on a new body of work. Not going to give too much away for now, but this area of America is particularly rich in its culture and history, and still continues to produce a wealth of musical and artistic talent today.
Massive thanks to Arts Council England for believing in my idea and for giving me this opportunity.
I will be posting frequently whilst out there so follow me on Instagram: @lucykatepiperusa to see what I get up to...
So this Summer I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time up on beautiful Dartmoor National Park, as support artist to photographer Jo Bradford (Green Island Studios). I have been helping Jo to deliver mobile phone photography workshops, following the success of her year-long project 'A love letter to Dartmoor', which has been exhibited at Princetown visitor centre this Summer. Jo uploaded a photograph to Instagram every day throughout 2015, and her beautiful landscape images of Dartmoor gained worldwide attention. (See her Instagram)
Funded by Arts Council England, the workshops were free to all those involved, offering members of the public the opportunity to learn new creative skills, whilst simultaneously discovering the beauty of the outdoors and learning more about the landscape on their doorstep.
Participants travelled from all over the South West to the Moor, from St Ives in Cornwall to Axminster on the East Devon border, and I'm 99% certain from our feedback forms that all those involved thought it was worth the drive! :-)
Check Green Island Studios' website HERE for details on future workshops.
(Even I have learnt a lot about mobile phone photography these past months, thanks to Jo! Both images in this blog post were taken on my iPhone SE..)
Another train journey to London last week = another chance to edit further my trip to Norway in March/April, where I spent a month on an organic farm...
So I was lucky enough recently to be awarded with a place on an intensive workshop week at Photofusion (a gallery/educational space based in Brixton, London) with experienced photography consultant & picture editor Raffaela Lepanto, who had been brought over especially from Italy.
There were 15 of us on the course & everyone was very engaged with each other's work. We were specifically looking at each others personal projects & websites etc. & looking at how to improve our online presence & presentation, so hopefully you will agree with some of the changes I've made to my site!
The intensity of the course lived up to its name.. but I did get to take a few pictures on one of my lunch breaks. Brixton is somewhere I've always wanted to get my camera out but never done so. The fast pace of the main street has always kept me moving, never stopping except to get on the bus (!), but this time being based in the area for a whole week I was able to take it easy & enjoy the place more.
So I spent all of March in the Arctic Circle in the North of Norway (Tromso to be specific) on an organic farm. Why, you might ask?! Well, I've wanted to go there for some years now, partly because of the beautiful & dramatic scenery, also the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights (which I was lucky enough to see once, spectacularly), but also to discover the remoteness & harsh conditions in which people live & work up there.
I had visions of daily treks through snow storms in eskimo attire, but in fact, life was surprisingly 'normal' (despite occasional wipe outs...) Roads are kept clear with ease, houses are heated hotter than my own back in Devon & everything ticks over pretty much the same as it does in the UK; people go to school, work & play without the conditions stopping them.
My own experience however was slightly more unusual, as I lived, worked & photographed life on an organic farm which I discovered through the organisation, WWOOFING. (I highly recommend this to anyone wishing to soak themselves amongst a different culture for a while, living & working with local people for food & board. You can do it pretty much anywhere in the world..just I happened to choose Norway.)
Before heading out there, I had thought I was going to be staying on my own for a month with my host, Leikny. However, when I got to the airport, after half an hour of wondering where anyone was (!), discovered two East European boys waiting for me with a sign that read: 'English Wwoofer =)'. They had arrived just the day before me, so I was not alone! I ended up spending the entire month with these boys, who became good friends & of course often (to their patience & kindness), my subjects.
The boys were staying at the farm for 5-6 weeks before hitchhiking across Norway & catching a flight from Oslo to Thailand. They are working and travelling as they go, and I look forward to seeing how their year of adventure pans out.
There were indeed times where we were literally snowed in & things did feel pretty damn quiet/remote/lonely, and if it wasn't for the boys this could've been pretty tough. I missed home & felt very isolated at points, but the surprise of what each day brought (in terms of weather, daily activities & what was for dinner!) kept me going, as well as the constant photographic opportunities - both with people & landscape.
There were some rather bliss moments too... and as you can tell from my face (below), the trip was definitely an enjoyable one. This is just a taster for now as I took around 1000 images and also some video...I'll upload another post very soon. L
A few more Scilly Campers from last Summer to add to the ongoing collection...
Lovely people & looking forward to seeing some familiar faces again this year.
Really want to do a book/exhibition (both ideally!) with this project at some point.
I'm STILL editing pictures from last Summer! I suppose it is only February...and they are in a sense 'holiday pictures', which tend to come last in order of importance, professionally speaking ! Other stories/commissions/life took priority though; my beach hut project had to be shot whilst tenants were still there, I had an exhibition of my project 'Small Town America' & I returned to the aforementioned at the end of the year for one last trip in 2015 (& caramel sundae).
Anyway, this little set comes from The Isles of Scilly, my favourite place to go every year and escape from everyday life.
Here's a few images that I've picked out so far..the same place that those featured in my ongoing set of portraits 'Scilly Campers' enjoy... There are some more of those portraits coming too. I'm getting there (through the editing)!! The big incentive is the fact I'm about to go away again on another fairly long trip (& take 100s more photos) in 3 weeks time. Enjoy...L
Finally got around to watching this - A very interesting documentary, recommended to me by somebody after they'd seen my photography exhibition Small Town America. The production is slightly unusual with the musical/theatrical element to it but I think it works. A truly representative take on the American South. Some unreal footage from the churches/bars and consistent great quotes in there by the main man, Jim White:
‘You don’t see the South when you’re riding along on the Interstate. You pull off and there’s a Cracker Barrel or whatever, but you go 5 or 10 miles off the Interstate and you get the South as it was 50 years ago or 100 years ago.’
For those of you interested, you can watch the documentary HERE
You need 1hr 23mins on your hands though...
(Here's one of my pictures below to set the mood!)
Following my exhibition Small Town America (displayed in Topsham throughout November), I returned to the States for another trip before the year was out.
Having spoken with many people at home about the project, I returned to Tennessee with a matured mindset & saw the people & place in a renewed light. If anything, I think my photos were more focused this time.
I look forward to editing the images during the New Year.
Here's one to give a taster...
Hanging my exhibition Small Town America today!
It will be up for two weeks at The Café, 76 Fore Street, Topsham EX3 0HQ.
1st - 15th November
The Café is open Mon-Sat 9.30am-4.30pm, Sun 10.30am-4.30pm
Hope those who see it enjoy it…Please leave a comment in the visitors book if you do.
Small Town America is a documentary photography project set in Tennessee, incorporating a mixture of landscapes, portraits and church signs from the heart of the Bible Belt.
To quote writer Paul Theroux, who has just written a book on the South:
“The small towns of the Deep South say something about America that the big cities don’t. The towns show you how they’ve often been abandoned by their own governments, how they have been left behind by education and politics. It’s in the small towns you see the effects of poverty and the outsourcing of US manufacturing. Look at the smaller towns and you see the real America.‘