The big picture: the Water Valley women, Mississippi


In Mississippi, Water Valley is a town of around 3,000 residents. People move there or remain there because they fall in love with Victorian homes in the Gothic Revival style that exist in different phases of restoration or decay. One such person was photographer Carolyn Drake, who settled a few years ago in the Water Valley after returning from a decade-long trip through Russia and Asia that included living and photographing in Uighur villages on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. Without picking up her camera, Drake spent two years in the Water Valley.

She wasn’t sure how to photograph the area without it looking like the “South.” view of a New Yorker.

It was not until she became part of a circle of knitting, an insider sitting on the porch of her friend Katharine drinking IPA, weaving rugs and listening to podcasts of True Crime, that she found a way to do it. The outcome is Knit Club, her odd and strong photographic book about the women of the Water Valley. This picture, in which flowers obscure her fellow knitters and quilters, captures one of her book’s themes, an intense play on ideas of motherhood and femininity-ideas that she had tended to “run away from with her camera.”

In the knitting club’s collaborative culture, she started to wonder why she rejected these ideas.

In abandoned homes, some of her photos are taken, others in dark woods; some hint at enigmatic sisterly rituals.

In several of them, Drake says, the female faces are hidden so that the male gaze does not replicate. There are no captions, just brief snippets, from the knitters, of quotes in the novel. Katharine, for instance, says, ‘I live in the center of the city, so when we sit out here, everyone sees us.

“A few of my girlfriends’ ex-husbands hate it. They say, “These broads are up to no good.” Perhaps they’re right. TBW Books publishes “Knit Club


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