In 2009 we drove through what we came to call The Mississippi Vortex: At every stop in The Magnolia State we found a blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, life and death, past and present.
It was late and we were driving from Alabama to Mississippi to spend the night at the site of a World War II prisoner of war camp. I had fallen asleep in the backseat and when I awoke the car was parked in a gas station parking lot. Rob was nowhere to be seen.
I got out and found him hunched over by the side of the road, taking what seemed like the same photo over and over again. I asked him about continuing the drive and he simply shooed me away – he was focused on his shot. A few long minutes went by, and just as I was starting to get mad at how long he was taking, he declared the shot gotten and came back to the car. I wouldn’t see the photo he was working on for a couple days, but once I did… well, it’s nearly five years later and it’s still one of my favorites of his:
“Wafflehawks” by Rob Bellinger (2009)
For some reason that corner of Gulfport, Mississippi had three Waffle Houses at the same intersection. I had tried to capture that oddity in a photo, and it was unremarkable.
Rob saw something more. In the Waffle House across the highway from him, he saw the figures gathered around the counter and how the light streamed out of the building. He saw the stark contrast between the yellow light and black night. He saw how the hint of road and the power lines crossing the letters of the sign were the only indications that this Waffle House was part of a larger landscape and not simply floating in a void.
He saw a modern vision of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, one that paralleled the migration of the post-war generations out of the inner city and into the sprawling suburbs. Wafflehawks may capture a scene from southern Mississippi in 2009, but thanks to the black of night, it is not tied to any one city or region. And if you ignore the car in the lower left of the frame, it could be from the same time period as Nighthawks, the patrons just another set of people looking for shelter from a night made even darker by the blackout regulations in place during WWII.
And if the lights of that Waffle House had been dimmed to ward off aerial bombardment, would Rob have still seen it? Probably. Because that’s what we do.
We take an “anytime, anywhere” approach to photography, meaning that wherever we are, we’re on the lookout for scenes like Wafflehawks. And once we see it, we find a way to photograph that scene so that it captures the moment in a way that resonates with the viewer. Sometimes this means pulling the car over to get the shot, and sometimes it means shooting while driving the car, but whatever it takes, we get the shot.
And then we move on. To the next stop, the next scene, the next opportunity to explore and document somewhere new.
— Dan Meade
Photo: Rob Bellinger
Date Taken: June 1, 2009
Published: February 9, 2014