The South’s Dualities, as Photographed by Nashville’s Tamara Reynolds
Photos and Words by Tamara Reynolds
Young Girl With Basketball, Vicksburg, Miss.
This project is about resolving the conflicted feelings I've experienced as a Southerner. I love the South, but I have sometimes been embarrassed to claim it as my home. So I chose to explore the South on back roads, across railroad tracks, into hollows. In so doing, I found I could appreciate my home despite its failings.
Born in the South in 1960, I was undoubtedly affected by one of the most momentous and impassioned periods of Southern history. Contradictions were everywhere. There were too many unanswered questions, confusing arguments and mixed messages for a young child to comprehend and reason with. There were deep chasms that divided black from white, rich from poor, neighbor from neighbor. We were a region riven with extremes and the bearers of a cultural isolation that sometimes pronounced itself with self-righteous pride and a willful rebelliousness.
The South alone carries the burden of having fought and been completely defeated before relinquishing a way of life so rich but yet so ugly it nearly divided the country. On one hand, I have admiration for Southern courage and perseverance. It fought courageously against a tremendous social and financial transformation and paid an enormous price. On the other, I feel ashamed of its cowardly and stubborn justification of a social system based on abuse and inequality.
I cringe at how the country has stereotyped Southerners as hillbillies, religious fanatics and racists. There is much evidence of this, of course. But I have also learned that there is a restrained dignity, a generous affection, an infectious humor, a trusting nature and a loyalty to family that Southerners possess intrinsically. We are a singular place, rich in culture, strong through adversity. We are a people who have persevered under the judgment of the rest of the world. Ridiculed, we trudge forward, carrying the sins of the country seemingly alone.
There is more to be revealed under the surface of things. Like kudzu, things may appear different from above than what lies beneath. While questioning my appreciation of the South, I found the beauty that is within it. And through compassion, I have come to accept.
Man in Truck, Mississippi
Early evening before the sun set, I came across a party on a block in Holly Springs. There was a group of young men and old men with a sprinkling of pretty girls in the mix. Some were playing checkers; others were drinking. Music was playing from car speakers placed on the hoods of the young men’s cars. Their cars were parked along the street out in front of a local store of which the owner was a part of the gathering. It was something that appeared to be a regular occurrence. I loved the community feel. No one objected to me crashing the party. Matter of fact, I was asked to return.
Starlings Above a Cornfield at Dusk, Mississippi
Man in Smoking Field, Alabama
It was late afternoon, and I was traveling through Alabama when I started seeing smoke hanging in the air ahead of me. Once I came upon the smoldering field, I knew I had to stop. It was a small backyard type of field, and I saw a couple of men watching it from their side porch. I approached them to get permission to shoot it, and the owner was more than willing to oblige. He accompanied me to the field. He just seemed so willing and interested. And it was a lazy afternoon for him and his companion. I ended up talking with his sister a bit. She came to the door, I guess, to check on this woman who was hanging out with her brother on the stoop. She was a bit reserved and suspicious, but she opened up a little. She once worked in my hometown of Nashville, at Vanderbilt University. I was deep in Alabama and far from any big town; it’s a small world.
Hunters With Beagles, Tennessee
I was invited to attend the Wayne Reeves Beagle Hound Field Trials by my friend and his hunting group, all members of the Nashville Sportsman’s Club. It was a clear March day this year, and we were all running around after these beagles, trying to rustle up a rabbit. Far cry from the fox hunts I’ve attended. It was so much fun. I loved these guys. I came home with nice sun and wind burns. After the hunters loaded up the dogs to head home, they were shooting the shit and comparing notes. Patiently, their companions waited. It was good ending to a long day. I loved the relaxed atmosphere of this group of guys. All of them were such gentlemen. I know I was a bother to them — crossing over the rabbit line, messing up tracks for the dogs, talking too loud, asking too many questions. But every guy was so sweet and kind. One of the guys was telling me about the meaning of the beagles’ baying. “First bark, ‘I got one’; the second bark, ‘hell, you not lying.” And each guy knew the sound of his own dog’s bark, too. It was wonderful watching all these grown men running around after their dogs, kneeling in the brush with their heads bowed and their ears pitch slightly skyward, whispering among themselves. I was smiling the whole time.
Man on Oxygen, Georgia
This man was holding down the fort while a big oilcan of boiled peanuts was simmering on an open fire. My assistant was crazy in love with boiled peanuts. While the man’s young helper was ladling out peanuts, I got to know this fellow. He told me that his doctor had given him three months to live, two months before I was standing there talking to him. I often wonder if he made it past the three-month mark. He had his stand/house/hangout just beneath a truck stop and gas station in North Georgia on the route toward Ellijay.
Woman in Hoodie, Tennessee
I met this woman in downtown Nashville on Veteran’s Day 2012. She said she was a victim of domestic abuse and no longer lived with her husband. She was on the streets now but seemed happy and content and willing to tell me how to take care of myself. We had a woman’s bond. I left thinking how similar we were on the inside.
Young Girl at Blue Wall, Tennessee
On Dickerson Road in Nashville on a Sunday morning, this young girl was walking from the convenience store. I stopped her because she and I seemed to be the only ones on this otherwise busy street. Dickerson Road is a colorful street in Nashville, but it is known for being rough and risky. She seemed too young to be here and maybe a bit out of place. I learned she was from Hazard, Ky. She was working at one of the shipping companies in town and living in one of the motels near by. She and I talked about substance abuse and finding a program. Her hope was to move back in with her children. While we were talking, I noticed a big white fancy truck circling back around to us. She abruptly stopped our conversation, turned animated and walked toward the truck leaving me scratching my head. The shift in her personality was unnerving and sad to me. I felt like I’d seen through a crack in the wall she’d built around herself, and then been interrupted by reality.
This young tomboy, Macy, was walking in a field heading home when I saw her. I immediately related. She was alone and bedraggled. I spent a good part of my adolescent years alone and bedraggled. I was very much a tomboy, much to my mother’s chagrin. I grew up when the fad was to wear your father’s buttoned up work shirts down to your knees. You would see me walking behind a neighbor’s house, in back lots, overgrown fields, along the railroad track followed by my beefy German Shepherd. I wasn’t the girl who wanted to grow up. I enjoyed my freedom and my adventures. I followed Macy home to meet her parents to get permission to photograph her. This is her stepfather, Michael, with Macy on the porch of their house, somewhere along Highway 70 in East Tennessee, near Kingston.
Rebel Flag and Swing Set, Ellijay, Ga.
Corner Store Guy, Mississippi
He seemed to keep an eye out for the whole ’hood as he stood watch at this corner market in Cleveland. He was fun and light talking to this old white woman (me) but was preoccupied with possibly missing some action.
Pool Hall, Cleveland, Miss.
Motel and Clothesline, North Carolina
I pass this motel in Murphy each time I make my way to the Nantahala to see my river-guide boyfriend. With each trek I find it in a different state of disrepair. I don’t think I’ve seen it yet operating as an actual motel.
Fireworks Sign, Mississippi
Pumping to Please, Alabama
This store and gas station was all by itself on a highway heading south in lower Alabama. It was no longer open. The owner was looking for a buyer. Made me sad because the sign was so inviting. I guess not too many travel that route to Florida anymore.
Mom Cashier With Baby, North Carolina
There is a small convenience store located just as you come out of the Nantahala Gorge, aka “the Ditch.” We stop here at the store from time to time. Stores aren’t too plentiful in this part of North Carolina. Hell, not too much at all is plentiful there, except kudzu. It is a quiet place when the river isn’t running. This particular visit, a young lady was working the cash register. Her husband and baby were keeping her company.
Harmonica Festival, Fairview, Tenn.
Selling Snow Cones in August, Memphis, Tenn.
Lawn Care Man, Tennessee
This is one of the men who cared for my lawn. He had a striking and sophisticated look about him. To me, there was a nostalgic look to him. He looked pure and timeless. Only a week after I took this image, he suffered a heart attack, but less than a season later, he was back out mowing lawns.
Mississippi River Dock Worker at Lunch Break, Cleveland, Miss.
Smoking Guy With Gun, Erin, Tenn.
Lady in Checkered Shorts, Tennessee
I met this lady in North Nashville on Jefferson Road. It was a Sunday afternoon around the July 4 holiday in 2012. She was hanging out with friend at her apartment there behind her. The way she carried herself in her short shorts stuns me still. I pulled over and struck up a conversation. When people amaze me, I have to see what they are all about. I loved how easy, open and confident she was. But I see such innocence about her, too. With little to lose, she stands so vulnerable before me, arms back, heart/chest unprotected and so impartial to me.
Woman in Front of Tent, Tennessee
I came across a festival — I think it was a Native American festival — near Crossville in May of 2011. What I love about this young girl was her voluptuous figure shamelessly shown off and accentuated by her tight jeans and tight-fitting tank top. This rebellious stance toward the skinny models of media is refreshing. I loved how she loved her body.
Hound Dog, Pines, Ky.
Winter Kudzu, Tennessee
Even out in West Tennessee, kudzu is prolific. I came across this undergrowth of kudzu in the Natchez Trace State Park, midday in the winter light. It was magical. For some reason I had overlooked winter kudzu. I guess it was because summer kudzu is so alive. You can almost see it growing in the summer.