Sometimes a simple assignment turns into a multi-year photographic project. Just as Shawn Reeder spent years creating a visual essay embodying the vast beauty of Yosemite National Park, Virginia-based photographer Matt Eich spent years documenting the rural Mississippi neighborhood of Baptist Town. For some photographers, subjects that start as mere curiosities turn into longterm fascinations.
Established in the 1800s in conjunction with the growth of the local cotton industry, Baptist Town is one of Greenwood, Mississippi’s oldest African American neighborhoods.
Eich initially focused his attention on Baptist Town, but then launched into a second chapter of the project about the adjacent area of Greenwood. His goal is to display the resulting images in both communities in an effort to actively engage residents in a dialogue about improving the lives of their neighbors. Eich explains, “These communities are separated by distrust and a history of exploitation. By visually introducing neighbors to one another in an honest and intimate way, my goal is to foster understanding and dispel uncertainty and fear.”
This series of photographs represents Eich’s ongoing work on his project, entitled “Sin and Salvation in Baptist Town.” Although the project in began in April 2010 as an editorial assignment for AARP Bulletin, Eich has returned to the community numerous times since then to pursue an ongoing essay. He was awarded the ShootQ Grant for his project and subsequently won a grant from National Geographic to continue his work in Baptist Town.
In his ShootQ Grant proposal Eich remarked,
“While many of us would like to believe that we live in a post-racial society it is hard to imagine a place like Baptist Town without the South’s troubled history of segregation. In a city where 50.9% of the black residents live below the poverty line, my goal is to remind people that the real legacies of racism in the South continue to impact people economically and culturally, in persistent and often pernicious ways.”