Clay presents Delta Dogs
by Courtney Warren
Jun 14, 2014 | 2528 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Maude Schuyler Clay has completed a photography project that will be shown at Wiljax Gallery on June 17 titled "Delta Dogs."

She will be signing books from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

"I grew up in the tiny hamlet of Sumner, population 400, got away for school and for an extended period in New York City, but eventually came back to live in the old family house, which I call the Southern Grey Gardens. It is over a hundred years old and my maternal grandparents built the house here on Cassidy Bayou in 1911," said Clay.

Because all of her work was in the Delta, she decided to move back and explained she wanted her three children to experience a similar childhood.

"What brought me back and keeps me here is what I call the 'Giant Magnet': it pulls you in. It is that sense of place that Eudora Welty talked about. This was home and I felt it was my 'job' to record and interpret it," she said.

Clay said she became interested in photography when she got a 35mm camera in high school.

She went to school at Ole Miss and then the Memphis Academy of Arts.

"Since we were required to take all the courses like drawing, design, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, art history, etc., I learned all I could about those things, but I had already fallen hard for photography. Luckily there was a wonderful photography instructor there by the name of Murray Riss who had studied at the Rochester Institute of Photography…at the art academy, I just started thinking of myself as a photographer and took a lot of pictures all the time," said Clay.

Because of her close proximity to the Delta, Clay took a lot of pictures in the area before she moved to New York City.

"I worked at the LIGHT Gallery, a gallery for contemporary photography, and I did my photographs on the side; I later worked as a photo editor at magazines like 'Fortune', 'Vanity Fair', and 'Esquire'. I met my husband, photographer Langdon Clay, in New York," she said.

Delta Dogs is a photography books that is filled with photos of dogs throughout the Delta.

"I began wandering around the Mississippi Delta at a pretty early age, I learned to drive at about age 12. One always saw dogs in the little towns and in the landscape driving around here in the Delta, but it did not occur to me to photograph them as such, the 'Indigenous Canine Presence,' as I call it, until much later. As I say in the afterword to Delta Dogs, my earliest attempts at serious photography were of the family dogs.

"We always had a dog, and I now have four, all Delta Dog rescues. They are inside dogs, with a swinging doggy door and a big fenced backyard; they are some of the very lucky Delta dogs. I should probably be running a dog shelter because I love dogs so much. Which brings me to this: please support your local animal shelter with donations, and if possible adopt a non-designer dog," said Clay.

Clay said she believes thee dogs represent the delta in several different ways.

"They are fierce survivors, learning to be adaptable, owning a sense of history, and some of it is dark history. There is a certain nobility and intensity about the dogs, as there are the people here. And some of them look they really know how to have a good time," said Clay.

Some photos focus on the landscape and make the dog difficult to see; when asked if this was done on purpose Clay said, "These are essentially landscape pictures, kind of an extension of my Delta Land work. The dogs give the landscape scale, though I admit some of them have a 'Where's Waldo' aspect. I usually prefer to set out in the late afternoon to photograph, because I know the beauty and power of that low light. But some of the dog pictures were taken in blazing midday sun or rain or the more infrequent snow—pretty much anytime I saw a Delta Dog by the roadside. Often I would actually set out on a mission to take dog pictures, but just as often came upon them on my travels to and fro. The Delta is a driving culture."

In an age where iPhones and other forms of modern technology make it very easy to take photographs and edit them on the spot, Clay says this makes it easier to recognize professional photography.

"All the pictures were shot with a 645 medium format camera and film. For those that know, the dimensions of the 645 negative are roughly twice the size of a 35mm neg., so they enlarge quite nicely…In the age of everyman being a photographer, it only makes it easier to recognize the good stuff.

"Not to diminish 'everyman's efforts' to record their 'little postage stamp of the world,' mangling Faulkner, but I do think it takes a certain fierce dedication to be a photographer—or any kind of artist—in this age. Like any endeavor close to your heart, you have no guarantee that it will work out like you want it to, but you keep on working and surviving, and perhaps even prevailing.. Somewhat like a Delta dog's life," she said.

Fore more information about the signing or to purchase a book call Cotton Row Bookstore at (662) 843-7083.