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A man and a woman sit on chairs on a small stage.
Aimee Hess of the Library's publishing office with ethnographer, photographer, and filmmaker Michael Ford in the Library of Congress Whittall Pavilion on May 23, 2019. Photo by Stephen Winick.

Botkin Folklife Lectures Plus: Michael Ford, Mississippi Ethnographer, Photographer, Filmmaker, and Author

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In the Botkin Folklife Lectures Plus series, we present selected lectures in our Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lectures series that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. In this post, both videos take the form of interviews with the ethnographer, photographer, and filmmaker Michael Ford. In addition, as a special treat, we include links to streaming video of several of his films in the Collection Connections section, exploring traditions of music, blacksmithing, quilting, and more! As usual for posts in this series, you’ll find two embedded videos and a set of links to explore.

Michael ford first visited us in 2014, soon after we were able to acquire his significant collection of materials documenting traditional life and culture in the hill country of Northern Mississippi. Michael first moved to Mississippi in the 1970s after receiving his BFA in photography and film from Rochester Institute of Technology and an MS in broadcasting and film from Boston University. Michael became captivated with his new home, and soon became a part of community life. He completed an apprenticeship in a local blacksmith’s shop, and began to realize that local life and culture was rapidly changing. He spent several years documenting music, local farming practices, and other aspects of community life, primarily in Lafayette, Marshall, Tate, and Panola Counties in Mississippi. He shot over 16,000 feet of 16 millimeter film, recorded many hours of interviews and music, and took over 1000 still photographs. The documentation formed the basis for an important 1975 documentary, “Homeplace.” It now resides here in the AFC archive, and is being processed by our team of archivists. Hear AFC archivist Todd Harvey interview Ford about the collection in the player below!

After Michael’s visit in 2014, we kept in touch about his work and his collections. By then he was living in Washington, D.C., but had returned to his adopted Mississippi homeplace, camera in hand, only to find that most everything had changed or was gone. Out of this experience he crafted a book-length photo essay, “North Mississippi Homeplace,” which juxtaposes the rural Mississippi of the 1970s and the mid 2010s with Michael’s personal reflections. Over the course of several years, Aimee Hess of the Library of Congress publishing office worked closely with Michael to organize and shape the manuscript, and with the University of Georgia Press to create a finished book. Todd Harvey wrote the introduction, and the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, wrote a foreword. The distinguished folklorist William Ferris said “‘North Mississippi Homeplace’ is a hauntingly beautiful collection of color photographs that capture the North Mississippi world that inspired the fiction of William Faulkner, the photographs of William Eggleston, the music of Othar Turner, and the metalwork of Marion Randolph Hall. Michael Ford’s keen eye documents people, their homes and their landscape in exquisite detail and his eloquent writing frames each image with love and care.” When the book was released in 2019, Michael joined us again, in conversation with Todd Harvey and Aimee Hess. See that conversation in the player below!

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with 2014 collection talk here at this link and the 2019 book talk at this link.

Collection Connections and Links

A man plays guitar and sings into a microphone
Mark “Muleman” Massey played music for Michael Ford’s book release in the Library of Congress Whittall Pavilion on May 23, 2019. Photo by Stephen Winick.

More from Michael Ford

Read Michael’s Book

Find out more about the book “North Mississippi Homeplace: Photographs and Folklife” and buy it here!

Watch Michael’s Films

About Michael’s Collections at AFC

Michael’s rich collections document traditional music, farming and fishing, material culture, foodways, and other aspects of community life. Collections were made in Mississippi, the Chesapeake Bay region, and the West African nations of Senegal and Gambia. Contact the AFC reference staff at [email protected] for more information about accessing these collections in our reading room.

More from Mississippi

Mark “Muleman” Massey

At Michael’s book release, we featured the blues singer and guitarist Mark “Muleman” Massey. It sounded great in the room, but you may have noticed that our setup wasn’t ideal for recording him! Luckily you can hear more balanced recordings by visiting his links:

Mississippi Collections Guide

Find out all about our Mississippi collections in the guide American Folklife Center Collections: Mississippi

Lectures

Find all our Botkin Lecture videos mentioning Mississippi at this link!

Concerts

Blogs

Thanks for watching and listening! As always, you can find the whole Botkin Plus series at this link.

 

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