John Chiara


The sun radiates and creates an energy in the Mississippi Delta like no other place. This is due to the water table being approximately ten feet below the large flat plain that is Coahoma County. This is an area that has consistently flooded over and over again for several thousand years, making it one of the most fertile regions of the world. The fertility, the heat, the humidity make this land want to be something it currently is not. You can see it in the way theKudzu, like chainmail, drapes itself over old trees, and how the farmers now arm themselves with earth-altering, agricultural weaponry.

There are worlds within worlds in Coahoma County, Mississippi. It is a place with a strong oral tradition where the locals have a deep historical and cultural knowledge of the region. It is the birthplace of the Delta Blues. It is a landscape enlivened by a photographic collective memory, fed by nearly two centuries of photographers working their magic and being changed by the magic of the land in return.


Photography has a long and complicated relationship with memory, which seems to always be in flux. Memories are unbound, with divergent edges. You have to move around in them to get to points of clarity. While memories can be fleeting, times of deep introspection can trigger a strong visual recall. The psychological weight of it burns the visual experience into memory. As time passes, the ties to what the memory was originally linked to can loosen, but the visual remains.


The locations I choose to photograph are often non-descript at first—in-between spaces in the landscape, the type of places you would normally walk past without paying much attention to. I choose to work in a particular city or county for an extended period of time, the better to try to thoroughly explore the area. I also prefer to work this way because of the labor involved and the slow nature of the way I work. I spend time setting up and taking the photographs, pre-visualizing the possibilities of what the final image will be. This pre-visualization is tied to a knowledge of photographic process—I am responding to the qualities of the light and the way it envelops the landscape; the way the light is held and captured by the paper. I leave room for the noise from the photographic process itself to complete the work. In this way, there is a synchronicity that hinges and connects the final photograph to the time and the place that produced it.

Here, I find myself photographing the way the light is hitting the inner branches of trees at a particular moment. Because I thought I saw history in there…I sensed meaning in its reflection of this place.

Image credit: John Chiara, Clover Field Plantation at Fargason, 2016Image on ilfochrome paper, 50 x 55 inches