When working in downtown Atlanta, my friends and I would sometimes walk down Marietta Street to the “Jesus Bakery” to buy a cake or a pie or some other sinful dessert for a co-worker’s birthday or because we just wanted to. These bakery goods were the real deal, made from real butter and sugar, all the good stuff, no preservatives.
The bakery actually had another name, we just called it the “Jesus Bakery” because of the inescapable message you received when there. So, for example, if visiting to ask if they could have a red velvet cake ready for pick-up the next day, the answer would always be “if the good Lord is willing.” More than once I left the store with more than I went in to buy. You might think that’s typical of a lot of shopping trips except I didn’t ask for or buy these extra pies or cakes, they just freely gave them to me.
Recently I’ve spent a lot of time driving with my husband through the South: 20 hours to and from Tampa a couple weekends ago with furniture to set up Scott’s new apartment, and 12 hours last weekend to and from South Carolina for Parents’ Weekend at our daughter’s college. These were in no way photography trips. It was mostly a lot of boring interstate with a day wedged in between when we could spend time with our children.
But I always bring a camera and so I took this image of Spanish moss at a rest stop somewhere in northern Florida.
In South Georgia I was struck by the thick white cotton fields alongside the interstate. Don kindly exited the interstate and took a nearby frontage road so I could briefly photograph them.
I say briefly not because Don or I were in any hurry, but because within a minute I realized I was standing in ankle high ant beds with armies of red fiery ants crawling all over and in my sandals. If you think there’s a lot of cotton in that field, I’m thinking there’s at least ten times as many ants.
In South Carolina a week later, Don and Betsy gave me five minutes (bless their hearts) to take a couple photos of the boiled peanuts vendor who is always parked across the street from the local Walmart.
Twenty minutes later, I returned to the car having eaten and learned all about boiled peanuts and then giving Don a bag of roasted peanuts instead. And people wonder why I frequently run late …
Here’s the peanut man getting ready to show me how to open a freshly boiled peanut:
Here he is inside his trailer posing. Notice the sign above his radio.
It’s occurred to me that the South is, in a sense, one big Jesus bakery. You enter it knowing you’ll be greeted by characters you just don’t meet anywhere else and you leave often taking home with you more than you bargained for. Yes, the Bible Belt is changing, but that’s why the real deal needs preserving through photographs.
Photographing the South is hardly an original idea; indeed, there are entire festivals and magazines devoted exclusively to southern photography, but I think, this Mississippi bred girl is going to take it on, slowly (as in years) but surely, if … the good Lord is willing. The landscape is beautiful, the people colorful, the culture intriguing, and … it’s home.
“One place understood helps us understand all places better.”
– Eudora Welty
Happy Thanksgiving ya’ll.