Memphis is an evolving portrait of an American city’s people, places, creative energy, and how each shapes the others over time.
When we first visited Memphis in 2005, we were outsiders looking in, captivated by all that we saw, ate, and heard. We needed to know what fed the city’s unique creative energy, and we’ve returned multiple times to seek the answer. We believe the photographic record of this study, shot documentary-style with DSLRs, will captivate and inspire others just as Memphis has inspired us.
Take a drive around Memphis – nobody walks there. Much of the city looks ramshackle, haphazard, disorganized. From the Great Migration to the Great Recession, Memphis’s racial demographics have flipped from white majority to black majority. Land use policies have turned the city into an autocentric and quasi-segregated sprawlscape. Inequality is painfully on display.
But Memphians embrace the patchwork nature of their hometown, using it as the backdrop for their own creations: food, music, small business, community. Failed pursuits give way to new ideas. A gas station becomes a barbecue restaurant. Cadillac rims accent a plywood tamale trailer. There’s a deep passion for carrying on traditions that rose from post-slavery poverty to become icons of the city itself: Delta blues and barbecue. Layers of soot on barbecue pits and graffito- and ephemera-covered dive bar walls document a shared history. Memphians consciously reshape their city’s aesthetic with each creative response to their surroundings.
Taking a closer look at Memphis set us down a creative path of our own. With each visit, Memphians welcome us deeper into their world of resilience in the face of economic stagnation, and unabashed personality that seeks no outside validation.
–Dan Meade and Rob Bellinger
End note: We’ll be returning to Memphis at the end of May 2016 to spend two more weeks in the city and the surrounding area. We’re still working off our 2013 map of places to visit, but if you have any new recommendations – or feedback on the above portfolio – we’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s a complete guide to everything we’ve written about Memphis to date:
- Payne’s Bar-B-Que: Setting the Bar for Memphis Barbecue, in a Very No-Frills Setting
- A&R Bar-B-Que: The Best Ribs (We Had) in Memphis
- Tops Bar-B-Q: Home of the Barbecue Cheeseburger
- Up All Night: Craig Meek’s Memphis Barbecue Release Party
Memphis Dive Bar Adventures: A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Guide to Drinking in Memphis
- Actual Meth Camper
- Wild Bill’s, The Last Real Place in Memphis
- Bar-B-Brawl at the Bar That Never Closes
- Down by Sundown
- Perfect Ribs at 3 a.m.
- Ghost Mustang & The Magic Skillet
- Snake Tattoo Face
- Cougar in Training
- Searching for Life on the Mississippi
- PRAYING FOR YOU HATERZ