My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What a charming little book this is! It contains 90 black-and-white photographs, snapped by the grand dame of Southern literature in Mississippi churchyards during in the 1930s and 40s. “Mississippi,” she said, “had no art except cemeteries.”
Miss Welty merely trained her lens on whatever interested her. Angels appear more often than any other figure. One unusual stone that I particularly like is coffin-shaped, sheltering a moon-faced girl with staring eyes. She bears the outline of her life written on a tablet on her chest. I’ve never seen anything else like it. There’s a life-sized rendition of the Old Rugged Cross, complete with clinging virgin. Several stone dogs guard their masters’ graves. A whole flock of lambs sleep atop children’s graves, including a startled sheep whose eyes bug out at the camera.
Amongst the photographs, excerpts from Welty’s fiction and essays appear, along with her reminiscences of the photographing trips which were recorded in her 90th year.
As Welty’s friend Elizabeth Spencer notes in her introduction, all of Welty’s art — whether photography, fiction, or essays — “is an effort to rescue life from oblivion.” These lovely photos definitely serve that function. It’s noted at one point that these memorials have suffered decades of winter and abuse since Welty snapped her photos. It’s likely that if any of these sculptures still survive, they are worse for wear. Welty preserved them. This book, like a time machine, brings them into the present.
Although the hardcover book is 18 years old, it’s still available on Amazon both used and new.
View all my reviews on Goodreads.