Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Highway 51 (copy)

Again, I am reminded of the diverse talent Mississippi has to offer after flipping through the photographs of Gloria Norris' new book "Highway 51: Mississippi Hill Country." The coffee-table-size book is a collection of her camera work that is testament to all the singers and writers who made their homes along the mainline between Jackson and Memphis. She spreads a wide net at times. The book includes towns such as Oxford, Teoc, Holcomb, Independence, and Coffeeville but all would use highway 51 as the thoroughfare.

First talent is Gloria Norris herself. This is her first book of photographs but readers may know her other works such as the novel "Looking for Bobby" or the short story collection "Three Stories." Born in 1937 just off 51 in Holcomb, she decided to photograph the pavements' people and places when she noticed gated communities and homogenous fast foods beginning to populate the route.

Many pages are devoted to the talented Elvis. The book includes his home, Graceland, Sun Studio where he recorded and his blue Caddy. I imagine many girls swooned when seeing him while riding top-down. Across from the caddy is a picture of the blue doors of the Lorraine Motel. It makes brilliant two-page spread, but Lorraine is off highway 61. Here is another example of the wide net as she includes the Peabody, too.

The third group includes writer talent such as William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. The introduction written by Rick Bass who began his career writing while working as a petroleum geologist in Jackson remembers the road well. A picture of Faulkner's woods behind Rowan Oak sits opposite the backdoor from inside facing those woods. The green hues soothe in both with contrasting black tree trunks juxtaposed to the single black umbrella hanging on the coat rack.

Norris includes living musical talents such as Art Browning, Karen D'Ambrino, Lester Senter Wilson, and the Smith Brothers. We catch a reflective R.L. Burnside with his red Cutlass mirrored in the window beside him. On a two page spread devoted to Mississippi John Hurt, viewers will marvel at the speckled nature of two totally different settings. One being his headstone with coins scattered at the base and the other a knotty cypress doorframe with a guitar headstock leaning on the wood.

Local talent is also displayed in the book. Sledge Taylor tends to his cattle in Como and rocking chair maker, Greg Hawkins, proudly holds his saw. My favorite is Coretta Allen sitting in Austin's Barbershop getting her hair done. This is a must see and read book!

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