Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Place Meets Time

Mount Tina M.B. Church, Scott, MS, 1990.

Place Meets Time, Tom Rankin's meditation on the passage of time and its affect on a particular landscape, is currently displayed on the fourth floor of the Ogden's Goldring Hall. Rankin lived in the Mississippi Delta from 1988 – 1992, where he was a professor and department chair at Delta State University. He is currently the Director for the Center for Documentary Studies and Associate Professor of the Practice of Art and Documentary Studies at Duke University.

Brooks Chapel M.B. Church, Greenwood, MS

Place Meets Time represents a body of gelatin silver prints shot with an 8X10 view camera, that explores the landscape, monuments and vernacular architecture of an eighty-mile stretch of the Mississippi Delta over a period of two decades.

Alfred Green Grave, Morning Star M. B. Church cemetery
Beulah, MS 2009

Tom's artist statement:

"When I moved to the Mississippi Delta to teach at Delta State University in 1988, the light and the landscape of the region immediately seduced me. Land that some outsiders might find monotonous with its table-top contours and endless horizon, I find purely magical in the resonance of time, water, and season. As Eudora Welty wrote of in Delta Wedding, “all seemed sky.” And it does on some days, from some vantage points. But more, to me, the Delta seems all land, with the nuances of breaks and bayous, levees and mounds, fields and sacred spaces accentuating the landscape in such a visible way as to make it seem all you could ever want as a photographer. And so I return, over and over, to a place I lived for only four years but a culture I’ll never be able to rinse from my mind’s eye.

I was also immediately drawn to the sacred in the many African American communities. No single institution in the region has had a more profound impact on the entire culture of the Mississippi Delta than the countless African American churches that accent the landscape. The ubiquitous presence of these churches and their adjoining cemeteries and churchyards—these sacred spaces—constitutes a three-dimensional iconography in an otherwise profane agricultural landscape. Landmarks to some, places of spiritual refuge to others, “home church” to their devoted members, these centers of religious and social life have been planned, built, decorated, and maintained by local communities out of heartfelt intention. I see in these spaces and the adjoining landscapes the attitudes, beliefs, aspirations, hopes, and realities of the entire place.
As the bell towers of noble churches rot and fall, as preachers and congregations pass on, as graves sink and stones erode away, as religious sites become overgrown, the Delta certainly looks different. In the end, though, my interest is not so much in what is absent but what is present—how the marks of time and weather are visible, how what remains may be slowly disappearing, but stands equally sacred."

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