Some say that Meridian was called the Queen City because it stood equal in Mississippi to the capital of Jackson. Yet the collapse of the railroad industry in the 1950s still reverberates, as the roughly 40,000 person strong outpost continues to transform itself in the 21st century. Blocks which were for years abandoned or crumbling have new tenants alongside a giant farmer’s market and a thriving branch of Mississippi State University. The neon sign of Weidmann’s buzzes again on 22nd Avenue.
Despite this hopeful moment, Meridian still does not have the cultural magnetism of other parts of Mississippi—places which have lured photographers for a century. (Even one of Meridian’s most famous children, the musical legend Jimmie Rodgers, has long been eclipsed in the pantheon of country stars by his sideways descendants Hank Williams and Johnny Cash).
Yet it was just this out-of-the-way-ness which led a newly minted group of artists to spend time in Lauderdale County. This group, Due South, is a co-operative of five photographers, David McCarty, Ashleigh Coleman, Ellen Rodgers, Katie Steed and Ryan Steed, who create work about the American South. When the Due South co-op formed in 2018, their inaugural trip together was to Meridian. As member David McCarty explains:
“We will often meet in a city and then spend a day or two creating work there, peering around the corners and cobwebs. We attempt to just feel out a new place, and use the work to kickstart new projects. Imagine a jam session for a band. Our first trip was to Meridian, a place I'd often derided--I just didn't ‘see anything’ in Meridian. But after two trips there with our group, we began to develop a beautiful body of work centered on the Queen City.”
Over the course of a few visits and many hours, they endeavored to find a particular type of faded beauty within the city limits. The images which follow aren’t the only story of Meridian. It is just one story of a place which deserves to be known and loved.
Raised in a north Mississippi town you’ll never find, Katie is lead creative for the co-op. She’s an art director at Archer Malmo and teaches branding at her alma mater, Memphis College of Art.
Born into a family of Alabama coal miners, David McCarty now calls Jackson his home. In the ether of past and present, his use of instant film situates the image between the uncontrollable and precise. An inherent contradiction, David’s polaroids immortalize the forgotten.
Ashleigh Coleman was born in the mountains of Virginia, reared in South Carolina, and for the last decade has lived in a rural Mississippi hamlet. Her graceful images showcase the complexities of the South by capturing the beauty and brutality of rural life.
Ellen Rodgers was born in the Mississippi Delta and grew up on the land her family has farmed for generations. Hasselblad in hand, Ellen builds a relationship with every person she meets— so that any portrait is more like a visit from a family member or an old friend.