In short, Delta Dream Express is a photographic journey that passes through the struggles and fantasies, hardships and dreams of the Mississippi Delta today. Attempting to explore the modern-day cultural landscape in a colorful, unique and fertile American region with a difficult past and an uncertain future.
Originally conceived as photography show that opened at Through This Lens Gallery in Durham, NC, in October of 2007, Delta Dream Express is a collection of photographs made throughout the Mississippi Delta in 2006 and 2007. Because this project was largely documentary in nature, some of the photographs were not for sale, but others were and are available in limited quantity archival inkjet prints (more information on that bellow). The idea to photograph in the Delta rose up from my travels down the Mississippi River and a deep love of American roots music. Hillary Rhodes, a colleague of mine from our shared time at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, was working for ASAP, a now-defunct youth subsidiary of the Associated Press, when we began talking about the Delta and blues music in the age of the iPod. What was to become of this region now that the original practitioners of it's greatest musical export were no longer living, say for a few great ones still on the touring circuit? What kind of tourist attractions were taking the place of reality? Do juke joints still exist? Is anyone else younger taking up the form and pushing it forward?
We made a pitch to the editors at the Associated Press promising to seek out the answers to these and many more questions. Surprisingly, they gave us the green light. The resulting journey proved to be a somewhat manic attempt to understand a region of the country that seemed a whole other part of the world. It's dark and complex history challenged the best of our intentions and left us with far more unanswered questions than we could imagine after three week's worth of experiences. We did feel that our youthful perspective and intensely self-critical thinking provided, at the very least, a contemporary view of a place often spoken of in the past tense. View the resulting ASAP story series.
One year later I returned to the Delta to work with the American Diversity Project - a bold and innovative photojournalism workshop created by Jim & Carla Winn. Instead of zipping all around Mississippi, I stayed mostly around the Clarksdale area and focused my attention on telling more personal stories. While strolling down Issaquenna Ave., I happen to walk into Gates Piano Co., where Mr. Timothy Louis Gates was leaning back in an old office chair doing crossword puzzles and listening to gospel AM radio. It was a day I shall never forget. And thanks to the generosity of ethnographer and filmmaker Ali Collen Neff (Let the World Listen Right), I was introduced to the talented young rapper Ms. Kimyata “YATA” Dear.
In the near future, I would like to return to the Delta to visit with friends and people that have left a lasting impression upon my perception of life. For now, I hope that this collection of photographs and audio will offer an informative and thoughtful reflection of a culturally rich American region often overlooked and forgotten.
- DL Anderson