Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Mississippi Delta 28: Tutwiler

The small town of Tutwiler is in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, northwest of Webb on U.S. 49E. The view from 49E is a bit discouraging - a closed garage, a fast food joint, not much else. I came through late one day in 2014 and had only a short time to look around.
Hancock Street was once the commercial center. Now it is pretty discouraging. These are the typical square-front commercial buildings from the early 20th century that you see in many Mississippi towns.
The railroad once came through Tutwiler, as with all Delta towns. The triangle-shaped building above  fit a triangle-shaped lot between Hancock and Front Streets. The tracks are still present and, I was surprised, not completely rusted. Some traffic must occasionally run here.
The funeral home that prepared Emmett Till's body in 1955 is on Hancock Street. Sadly, the back of the building has collapsed.
The side streets in town are also discouraging. It is hard to see these communities collapsing.

A political note: both of Mississippi's United State Senators support the border wall. So, they think $5 billion would be well-spent to build a wall along the Mexican border, but meanwhile towns in their own state (communities that are largely African-American) are rotting and collapsing. I wonder if $5 billion could improve the infrastructure, open public health clinics, repair bridges, clean trash, repair drinking water piping, and upgrade schools in the Mississippi Delta? For shame. A pox on you corrupt and cowardly politicians.

These images are from a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera, with frame size set at 1:1 ratio.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Resting in Peace, Wintergreen Cemetery, Port Gibson, Mississippi (B&W film)

Wintergreen Cemetery of Port Gibson, Mississippi, resembles a secret garden, a place that time forgot, with giant cedar trees, lichen-encrusted wrought-iron fences, and gravestones with dates from the 19th century. According to the National Park Service, Wintergreen Cemetery was established in 1807 and is the final resting place for Confederate soldiers killed in the Battle of Port Gibson.
There are so many fascinating stones and family plots, but I could only make a quick selection. The light was soft with minor drizzle - perfect for Ilford Delta 100 black and white film.
Giant trees have grown here for decades. This one has been gone a long time, but many other trees were damaged or toppled by a tornado on Nov. 1, 2018. A lady from the cemetery management company told me they were waiting to bring in heavy-duty tree removal machinery to lift massive limbs. Stones were knocked down and need to be restored.
Many of the family plots are surrounded by beautiful wrought-iron fences cast in the shape of tree limbs or vines. This type of metalwork may have been a major industry in the 1800s.
The historic Jewish cemetery is a few blocks away. It is maintained by the same company that operates Wintergreen. A Catholic cemetery is nearby, but I was running out of daylight and did not explore.

These photographs are part of a test of my new 1957-vintage Voigtländer Vito BL camera with its wonderful 50mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar lens. All frames were tripod-mounted with exposures in the range of ¼ or ½ sec and aperture of about f/8.0. Some of the Vito cameras had a simpler shutter without the slow speeds, but this one has the full modern geometric progression of speeds.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Further Decay and Loss: Port Gibson, Mississippi (B&W film)

Background

Poor old Port Gibson. It is a historic town, with beautiful antebellum houses lining both sides of Church Street (which carries US 61 as it passes through town). The homes survived the Civil War because General Grant reportedly proclaimed the city to be "too beautiful to burn."

My 2016 post on Port Gibson showed some buildings that have since been lost. I had not been back since then for a careful visit, but on December 15 decided look around again. I had another motivation, to test a 1950s Voigtländer Vito BL camera that I had just bought. Some black and white film, a handsome old German camera, and an overcast, drizzly, gloomy day - what could be better? (Well, maybe a real coffee shop?)

I was appalled how bad much of the town looks. Some antebellum homes on Church Street are abandoned and are deteriorating, houses on side streets are ready to collapse, and empty lots have weeds and trash. How could this be happening?

North Port Gibson

Driving in from the north on US 61, the scene is peaceful and bucolic. This is rich farmland.
At the corner of US 61 and Grand Gulf Road, I saw a muddy driveway leading in to a farm. I asked some hunters if I could photograph their barn, and they responded that it was not their barn, so go right ahead. I assume most employees at Grand Gulf nuclear power plant zoom right by and miss the old barn and house on the right.
The northern outskirts of town, before you cross the Bayou Pierre, are horrifying. Stores are closed and the chain fast food stores purvey offal.

Little Bayou Pierre

Little Bayou Pierre, Feb. 18, 2017. Kodak Panatomic-X film (6 × 6), Rolleiflex 3.5E 75mm f/3.5 Xenotar lens.
Little Bayou Pierre, Dec. 15, 2018. Ilford Delta 100 film (24 × 36mm), Vito BL, 50mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar lens.
US 61 crosses Little Bayou Pierre. The water was high because of the large amount of rain that had fallen recently. Compare the 2017 photograph, when the sand bar was visible, with the 2018 high water scene.

Port Gibson

Look west from the north end of the US 61 bridge, and you can see cottages on Farmer Street.
This is sad: a handsome old mansion at 601 Church Street, clearly unoccupied and on the path to deterioration.
A block to the east, an early-20th century cottage at 709 College Street has a collapsing roof. This was a nice home, once.
On Marginal Street, across from the Jewish Cemetery, was a house with a dog.  He did not seem too interested in me, and after a half minute of barking, settled down.
On Jackson Street, an abandoned duplex is being engulfed with vines. A modern cruising motorcycle sat in the bushes. There was no obvious driveway with access, so weeds and brush had grown since it had been left there. What was it doing there? No one had removed it? These are 12 and 16 sec. exposures at f/8. I used about 4 times the light meter reading to accommodate reciprocity failure.

Camera note

As I mentioned above, this was an experiment: I bought a 1957 Voigtlander Vito BL camera for $34 on eBay. It has a fixed 50mm f/3.5 lens Color-Skopar lens (a Tessar derivative with a similar configuration of 4 lenses in 3 groups). The Vito is a strong German precision device from the end of the era when German camera manufacturers ruled the commercial market and just as the Japanese companies were surging forward.

Most of the exposures above are at f/8 or so, where the lens would be performing at its best. After some exercise, the leaf shutter settled down and sounds about right. The film pressure plate had some rust pips, so the first roll of film was badly scratched on the back (base) side. But I have cleaned the plate with a jewelry rouge cloth and an eraser. If need be, I will try some super-fine wet-dry sanding cloth. Stand by for more examples in the future from this little Vito camera. What do you readers think of the lens quality?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Faded commercial glory: Washington Avenue, Greenville, Mississippi

Washington Avenue, Greenville, view east from the Lake Ferguson levee.

Background

In the early 20th century, Greenville was the big, boisterous, rich, and booming commercial town of the west central Mississippi Delta.
At that time, Greenville thrived from cotton, timber, river traffic, and light manufacturing. These early-20th century post cards from the Cooper Post Card Collection at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History attest to the elegance and substantial commercial architecture of Washington Avenue. Washington Avenue was the sophisticated shopping street.
Here are two post cards showing flooding during the great 1927 flood, which caused immense damage throughout the Mississippi Delta (Barry 1998).
Washington Avenue, Greenville, mid-1950s (courtesy Preservation in Mississippi blog
Major American retail companies operated stores in Greenville. These included Sears Roebuck, Woolworth's, J.C. Penny, Montgomery Ward, and many others. The downtown was thriving at least through the 1960s, and many of these stores were located in sturdy early 20th century commercial buildings on Washington Avenue.

The Avenue Today

West end of 300 block of Washington Avenue, Greenville. 
309 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
311 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
325 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
Cast iron pillar, unknown vintage, 325 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
Washington Avenue today is a sad place. From what I could see, the shops along the west are closed. They look reasonably intact from the front, but I have no information on the condition of the roofs or the interiors.
Rear of 325 Washington Avenue.
Rear or 323 or 325 Washington Avenue.
Rear or 155 S. Poplar Avenue, Greenville.
A tunnel through the building at 323 or 325 Washington lets you walk to the parking area behind the buildings. I assume this area was reserved for delivery trucks in the old days, but possibly African American patrons had to enter the buildings this way.
Former J & B shoe store, 343 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
343 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
343 (?) Washington Avenue.
Johl & Bergman Shoes once occupied 343 Washington Avenue. They had a handsome entrance with dual doors and large plate glass windows to display their merchandise. The interior still looks remarkably mid-20th century. Does the plywood mean someone is trying to restore something? A walk up to the second floor is ominous. Daylight streams through holes in the roof. The flooring is wet in places and smells musty. As I have written before, in this wet climate, roof decay invariably means rotting joists and timbers and imminent collapse or condemnation by the city safety inspector.

What a shame. How do we let this happen in America? Our corrupt politicians in Washington (and Jackson!) claim they can spend $_billions on a boondoggle wall along the Mexican border, but it is perfectly all right to let hometown cities collapse due to poor education, infrastructure decay, and general neglect. A pox on you slimy politicians.

References

Barry, J.M., Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.  Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (April 2, 1998).

Images

The 2018 frames are from a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, most with the Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 compact lens. This is a handy and compact camera and lens package that you can take with you conveniently. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a Barnack Leica (meaning one of the compact screw-mount rangefinder cameras, like my IIIC).