The West Point/Clay County Arts Council presents “Juke Joint,” a collection of Birney Imes’ photographs of Mississippi juke joints and related images. A July 12 reception from 2-3:30 p.m. at the Louise Campbell Center for the Arts in downtown West Point opens the exhibit. Visitors will hear a gallery talk by Imes and music by blues musician Drew Dieckmann of Starkville.
In an interview earlier this year, Imes told “PBS NewsHour” that he was attracted to a “world that was forbidden” to white residents of Mississippi.
“Growing up in the segregated South, there were these separate worlds living next to one another that often intermixed,” Imes said. “And I think part of what took me to photography was the desire to explore that world.”
The photographs reveal a previously unexplored and now nearly vanished domain, the black juke joints of the Mississippi Delta. Many no longer exist. And yet Imes’ photographs continue to inspire songs, poetry, movie sets and the interior designs of bars, restaurants and live music venues striving for authenticity and that inimitable Delta Blues feeling.
Behind the lens
Imes began photographing after graduation from college and is largely self-taught. In the mid-1970s, he worked as a photographer for his family’s newspaper in Columbus. Later, he opened his own studio above the Princess Theater. Along with his personal work, he shot commercial work for local clients and took assignments for magazines like Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and Texas Monthly. Today, with the help of his eldest son, Peter, he publishes the daily Commercial Dispatch and Starkville Dispatch newspapers, as well as the quarterly Catfish Alley magazine. The paper has been in his family now for four generations.
Imes’ photographs have been collected in three books: “Juke Joint,” “Whispering Pines” and “Partial to Home,” and have been exhibited in solo shows in the U.S. and Europe. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and numerous public and private collections.
Photographs selected for the West Point exhibit include approximately 20 taken between 1983 and 1989. Many of the images are the result of long exposures that show the blur of human movement as a figure lounges at a bar or steps across a room to feed quarters into a juke box. The resulting “ghosts” animate the pictures and give them an otherworldly quality.
The exhibit will remain up through Sept. 4. The arts center at 235 Commerce St. is staffed Wednesdays from 1-4 p.m., or by appointment. For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Kathy Dyess, 662-494-5678.
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