Art and the City

Artist Profile: Michael Ford

Aubrey Jefferies at his homeplace, Chulahoma, Miss, 1972. We called Jefferies’ home “Circle Stacks” because of the way he piled his firewood into round beehive-looking stacks.

Michael Ford goes by feel. He’s a “Zen photographer.” It’s about trying to find “the zone—not thinking about what you’re doing…just doing.” It’s the feel that comes from experience and the confidence of instinctively knowing.

The photos from his “HOMEPLACE” project are from his 16mm documentary now in the collection of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. The place is northern Mississippi in the early 1970s. It could be the 1920s or 30s. Not much had changed.

The people and places tell the story. It was slower then—more deliberate. There was little sense that it was all drifting away—leaving only the shadows of memories with a few old folks—relics from a simpler time…but maybe from a more honest time.

A study in blue. Winrer at the forge. Oxford, Miss. 1973. OSHA probably wouldn’t have liked the Little Giant trip hammer but we never hurt ourselves in that particular way.

Michael Ford was New York raised with a B.F.A. in Photography and Film. He traveled to Mississippi hill country for his Masters’ thesis and found Mr. M.R. Hall, the local blacksmith. And found a way of life. And a way of thinkin’ ‘bout things.

He became an apprentice to Mr. Hall—learning the trade of a blacksmith and the ways of a small town. People needed to have things fixed—everything. It was a maintenance shop as well as a smith. They came to Mr. Hall, who was “…magic in his person and as a blacksmith.” Michael took pictures and nobody minded.

The pictures speak in that same backcountry manner. They are non-pretentious testimonies to a lost era, yet they have the same sense of touch—color, composition and light—that you find in his recent work. And a delicate, deep awareness of story.

Michael Ford started Yellow Cat Productions in 1972. Yellow Cat, headquartered on Capitol Hill, has produced award-winning documentaries on cultures around the world.

Tallahatchie River railroad bridge. Lafayette County. 1973. Built in 1908 Part of the Illinois Central Line. It always seem to have fishermen, boaters, loafers and lovers about.

Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art
The “Old South” was a way of thinking that found its way into literature, music and of course, art. Not very sophisticated—raw—but it came from deep inside the artist. They used whatever was leftover, and not much was—just the scraps of a meager existence. Life was harder—you see that in the art of the time and place—but daily life was more interdependent. Closer. Friendlier. People needed each other. There was more satisfaction with less because everyone had less.

Professional photographers usually came from the outside—voyeurs from the north—trying to capture the rustics in their native habitat. Michael Ford (see: Artist Profile) knew that to really understand the people of northern Mississippi, he had to become one.

This was also a place and time disappearing, just as your world is now. You’re only sort of aware. It’s somewhere in the back of your mind, where concepts are hazy, like dust clouds where stars are born. When you’re young, you think everything is static…the way things have always been and always will be. You are not necessarily aware that you are living in a mere moment of change—change that is accelerating unevenly, but inexorably. If you take the time to look, to really see, your world is disappearing before your eyes. That is where art comes in. It’s the observation of the way things are, not just appearance, but the essence of it.

Documentaries are about the way things are, but they end up being about the way things change, whether it’s the American South, a village in Senegal, or a tribe in Northern Thailand. It’s not just the fact of the place, it’s the feeling. That’s what Michael Ford is after. Art is at its best when it comes from deep inside.

At the Galleries
Hill Center
921 Pennsylvania. Ave. SE
Jan 4 – Feb 25
Opening reception: Wed., Jan. 10, 6:30 – 8:30

The Hill Center is welcoming 2018 with three new exhibitions running concurrently: 

Stitched! Stories told in Clay, Fiber, Textiles, and Paints.” Five local artists give new looks to something very old: the quilt. Some approaches are woven into a visual narrative while others go beyond traditional patterns and colors to find a personal expression. It’s a terrific show.

  • Kasse Andrews-Weller draws upon her Southern rural roots to interpret great quilt patterns and color compositions with clay.
  • Paula Cleggett’s oil paintings of daily life [have] the comfort and often the patterns of the home-made quilt.
  • Lillian Fitzgerald’s layered encaustics capture the richness of memory and the beauty of living.
  • Sandy Hassan’s quilts sing with color harmonies and hypnotizing patterns.
  • Desiree Sterbini’s oil pastel paintings are inspired by her grandmother’s quilts—stitched together from the family’s “fabrics of life.”

“Cool Guy Alert! By Charlie Visconage”
Charlie Visconage comes at you with guns blazing, firing primary colors at your crazy undecipherable world. But look out—there are some very serious ideas under the comic cover. Laughs, too.

Capitol Hill Art League Juried Invitational
The “Invitational” includes thirty-one artists from the Capitol Hill Art League, a visual arts program featuring members from the DC area. You’ll discover a great range of topics, media and techniques. The only commonality is the dedication and skill of the artists. Jurors Nicky Cymrot and Alan Braley of the Hill Center Galleries will announce five “Best in Show” awards during the January 10 opening reception.


All Member Exhibit
Foundry Gallery
2118 8th St. NW
Jan. 3 – 28
Opening reception:  Sat., Jan 6, 5 – 8

This is first Foundry show of the new year. It’s an all-member exhibit and introduces several artists who recently joined the longtime members. This is truly quality work.

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