Near the Cross: Photographs from the Mississippi Delta

Tom Rankin began photographing the sacred landscapes and spiritual traditions of the Mississippi Delta in the late 1980s when he moved there to teach at Delta State University. He returns to Mississippi regularly to photograph some of the same churches and cemeteries as they evolve and change over time, reflecting the ongoing life of these holy spaces. Rankin expresses his deep connection and attraction to the Delta and its religious practices in his book Sacred Space.

“No single institution in the Delta 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 kind of 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 for heartfelt reasons. . . . Thus the look and life of the church, inside and out, reflect the attitudes, beliefs, aspirations, and realities of the community. . . . The church survives not only as a place of worship, but also as a symbol to the membership of a sacred home where a formal commitment to religion began, where family meets, and where forebears once gathered."
      ---- Tom Rankin

The photographs in this exhibit were selected from prints in the Tom Rankin Photographs Collection, which is a part of the permanent collection of the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. The collection is available for viewing in the Special Collections reading room. Both the exhibit and the gallery in which it is displayed reflect the library’s commitment to students, faculty, researchers, and the local community to promote and display its large and growing collections of photography.

Reception / Artist's Talk
February 27, 2008, 5:30-7:30, Rare Book Room, Perkins Library

Listen: QuickTimePlay Audio 53 min. 

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On Display: 14 January 2008 - 23 March 2008
Special Collections Gallery
Last modified March 16, 2009 12:49:44 PM EDT