PDN Photo of the Day

Gravity Is Stronger Here

In Gravity Is Stronger Here, published recently by Kehrer Verlag, photographer Phyllis Dooney and writer Jardine Libaire portray life in Greenville, Mississippi, as lived by Halea Brown, a forthright gay teenager, and her Evangelical family. In an essay in the book, Dooney describes the beginning of the book, her first longterm documentary project. “I headed down to the Mississippi Delta in late 2011, on a journey many seekers take, looking for the shared American Way of Life,” she writes. She had researched the city’s cultural and economic history, and met with local organizations, but Dooney found Brown, the focus of her project, at a karaoke bar. “Nothing prepared me for Halea Brown, who took the mic that night at Spectators and rapped to an Eminem song. Halea was a petite eighteen-year-old woman dressed like Justin Bieber who called herself ‘$uperdike’ and was full of conviction.” Dooney got to know Brown and eventually her extended family; their story and voice became the center of the project. Writes Dooney, “In this family, I came to see a nation: a complex system of hope and hopelessness, contradiction and steadfastness, collective identity and individuality.”

The authors call Gravity Is Stronger Here a “creative nonfiction montage” made up of photographs and “docu-poems,” which combine fragments of speech from the book’s subjects with Libaire’s words; the project extends beyond the page in experimental films and music videos made in collaboration with the Browns. The images and text hint at the particular outline of the family’s story, as they contend with addiction, violence, homophobia and economic struggle in a town where casinos have been one of the few growth industries. The book depicts moments of tenderness and catharsis, following the family at home and in the lush landscape. Throughout the project Dooney and Libaire consider their status as outsiders in this family and community, and attempt to be transparent in their approach. Writes Dooney, “I am a fellow American seeker who holds up a camera, a double-sided mirror, with the hope that everyone involved, subject and photographer alike, gains a deeper understanding of who we collectively are.”

Related Stories:
Southern Charm
Reflections on the Mississippi Delta
Scenes of the Crimes: Brian Cassella on Justin Cook’s Intimate Look at Crime and Criminal Justice (for PDN subscribers; login required)

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