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Cast Down Thy Bucket

Cast Down Thy Bucket

Artist Statement:

There is a narrative people tell each other about Jackson. It is fearful. It is hopeless. It passes from one person to another to comfort or confirm decisions. It gently poisons the resources enough to distract from a truth about our capital city—we are all created in God’s image. We are all worth fighting for. We are all loved.

A close friend told me the story of a ship lost at sea, its water supplies run dry. After many days another ship appeared on the horizon. Signals were sent repeatedly, asking for fresh water. Again and again, the new ship responded, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” Upon lowering and raising their bucket, the lost ship discovered fresh water. Though originally from Herman Melville, when I researched the story I discovered that Booker T. Washington had evoked it in his Atlanta Compromise speech, saying:

“Cast down your bucket where you are. Cast it down, making friends in every [...] way of the people of all races, by whom you are surrounded.”

This resonated with me as an important facet in changing Jackson’s narrative. Who are the people committed to seeing Jackson succeed? Who are the people watering their community roots?

It has been fifty-four years since the Freedom Riders arrived in Mississippi; thirty-eight years since schools were integrated; twenty-four years since Bryon De La Beckwith was held accountable for the assassination of Medgar Evars in 1963; thirteen years since Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of orchestrating the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in June of 1964; ten years since James Ford Seale was incarcerated for the lynchings of Henry Dee and Charles Moore in May of 1964.

Yes, there has been growth. There has been change. It is naive, though, to think that there is not work left to do. This work requires humility and investing in lives of people across the street and across the tracks. This work requires uncomfortable conversations that involve asking questions and listening to the answers. It is work that is slow and sometimes stilted but good and necessary.

As a photographer, I am compelled to meet and document these change seekers. The slow, delicate nature of large format film photography speaks to the gradual change that is taking place in the city. Using this format allows me to spend more time with my subjects. I am also working with color film, because Jackson is a richly colorful city.

I acknowledge that I do not have the answers. I acknowledge that I am white. And female. And middle class. Yet, I can no longer ignore the desire to ask questions, to search out answers, and to encourage all Mississippians to take pride in their capitol city by investing in Jackson’s communities and businesses and by supporting those who work for this change.

This is a call for us to cast down our bucket.

This gas station is now closed, the pumps gone. It reminds me how quickly a city can change. I have been thinking about this a lot—southerners seem to gravitate towards photographing the same things: decaying architecture, overgrown landscapes, to name two.  I have heard the criticism that it is romanticizing a region, because we are trying to hold on to the past or we want the past to return. As I have evaluated my motives for partaking in cliché image making, there is a desire to archive underlying the act of taking an image.  Yes, things change. I am fine with that—things should change; however, I do want a catalogue of what is gone.
James. He worked in a body shop in Jackson. This is the first portrait that I took in the city. Later, I gave him a print, and he called me to talk. He is from Jackson and had worked in that shop for many years.
The Woodrow Wilson Street farmer’s market!  I love this place. It reminds me of what it was like when I went to the farmer’s market in Columbia, South Carolina with my grandmother—rows of produce laden booths, sugar cane stalks, people visiting.  This farmer’s market is down to two regular booths, but it is my favorite place.
The farmer's market
The body shop where James worked.
Smith County watermelon season!  I was driving by when I saw a school bus filled to the brim with watermelons. I had to stop to talk to the man in the bus. While I was there, this gentleman walked up to buy a melon.
The Jackson train yard
The man who doesn’t own the laundry mat. He is there every day to make sure things are running smoothly.
Through Rhonda Blasingame, a talented quilter, a group of women were able to get a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission to quilt together  They have now been meeting every Wednesday for eight years! I loved being able to join them to start learning to quilt.  This is Ms. Christine.  She started quilting in 2014 and has made 16 quilts so far.
Deebinder Singh, “Dee” or The Dude With the Food.  He moved here in March of 1998 from India. He and his mother owned this whole building.  They worked together until his mother passed away in August of 2017. Dee lives in the back of the building with his Great Dane, Denny.  
My children are almost always with me when I am exploring Jackson and talking to people we meet. I  never noticed this building, until, one day, I did.  My daughter hopped out to explore on her own.
This is Governor Lawyer.  He has been taking care of this yard for 40 years.  When we bought the house five years ago, I thought that it looked like someone was mowing the yard, but I wasn’t sure.  One day, we saw Governor loading up his lawn mower and went to talk to him.  Thus, he continues to care for the yard.  He is getting older, but I learned that he cares for some of the older people in his community—doesn’t want them to feel like they have been forgotten.
This is Ms. Cassandra. She taught school for 9 years and was a mail lady for 21 years. For 15 years she had the same route! She was also a librarian at Lake Elementray school for 11 years.  She still helps with Girl Scouts and is active in her neighborhood. She has been quilting for 9 months. Ms. Cassandra has the most infectious laugh.

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Ashleigh Coleman

Ashleigh Coleman

Ashleigh Coleman was born in the mountains of Virginia. She received her BA in Art History and English from the University of South Carolina. Since 2010, Ashleigh has lived in rural Mississippi where her work explores the complexities of family life, her relationship to the landscape, and what it means to have a southern identity.