Delta Time


Ken Light

Everywhere the eye looks the fields lining U.S. Highway 61 are exploding with large bulbs of cotton. The air is heavy with heat and humidity and my mind' s eye visualizes hundreds of Black sharecroppers being swallowed into these fields, sweating from their brows, the years of hard labor chiseled in their faces, dragging heavy cotton bags laden with "King Cotton."

In this poorest of places, in this land of opportunity called America, we see the best and worst of ourselves in this place called Mississippi. The Delta is a land where ghosts of the past still collide with the reality of 20th century America.

In my four and one-half year journey along Hwy. 61, and the smaller and less traveled roads of the Delta, scenes that I thought had long vanished from this American landwere revealed. Nothing had prepared me for this.

The cypress planked plantation shack still sits on the edge of the plantation. Every day brings a new vision and new dismay in witnessing the lives of Delta people. These contrasting and dramatic forces create an overwhelming picture in the mind 's eye, and an opportunity and responsibility. Few outsiders would believe what I have seen, if not for my camera.

The dignity and traditions of the Delta's people, create a powerful presence that gives hope and pride to their hard lives. Their sadness and their humanity have struck me deeply and taught me that with my "Freedom" to see and photograph comes a responsibility to listen to the community of people who have reveled their world through the camera .

Over the last twenty-four years, my education has been through the viewfinder of my camera. It has taken me to the heart of America, it has witnessed seven year old children in America's agricultural fields picking tomatoes for 34 cents a bucket. I have watched in total darkness as thousands of undocumented aliens have run and been chased across its borders. I have photographed third world countries and urban poverty in America. I can truly say that nothing has torn at me so heavily as what I saw in Mississippi. The people of the Mississippi Delta have allowed me to look deeper into my own world and into myself. I have realized that Mississippi can be a window for us all, our hopes and our fears.

I have often wondered why as we enter the 21st Century that their plight has been ignored, their freedom from want and their voices go unheard and unanswered.

I think back to those days as I watched my parent's T.V., 13 years old and drawn by the fears of the missing Civil Rights workers and what I saw. I think of the hopes that I held in my heart. Surely, America wouldn't turn her eyes from places such as the Mississippi Delta.

Ken Light © 1994

Ken Light is represented by J.B. Pictures. He can be reached at: