FEATURE: PHOTOGRAPHER LOU BOPP FRAMES THE BLUES WITH HIS LENS

B6Since 2008, photographer Lou Bopp has been capturing the now elderly men who constitute the Mississippi Delta Blues musicians of a previous era. With calloused hands, worn faces and twinkling eyes, the blues artists are living remnants of a bygone time, one of juke joints and fiery soul.

“As a photographer and part of my overall DNA, I wanted to go where most do not, could not, nor dare not venture,” Bopp explains in his artist statement. “Their stories seem embedded in their skin, scent, hands, stares; they are draped in history

The hands of Pat Thomas, bluesman and son of bluesman James Son Thomas. Leland, MS
The hands of Pat Thomas, bluesman and son of bluesman James Son Thomas. Leland, MS

Blues originating from the Mississippi Delta, land of fertile soil and extreme poverty, emerged around the turn of the 19th century, combining messages of despair and hope with the help of harmonica and the cigar box guitar.
“I’ve been inspired by the blues, the overall culture and the way that the genre shaped American and English rock music, and by extension, myself, most of my life,” Bopp wrote to The Huffington Post in an email. “I started traveling to the delta a few years ago and realized that the older generation of blues musicians are getting up there in age, and we have already lost so many. From that point on I was on a mission to document and photograph as many as I could within this era.”

Bluesman Mr. Johnnie Billington outside his Blues Academy in Lambert, MS
Bluesman Mr. Johnnie Billington outside his Blues Academy in Lambert, MS

“While many were not as commercially as successful as say BB King or Muddy Waters, many of my subjects played with them and have had an important influence within the blues and have created great music on there own. There are really good younger musicians in the Mississippi delta as well, many that I have also documented. However, my curatorial focus has been documenting the previous, elder generation.”

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Bluesman LC Ulmer at his home in Ellisville, MS
Bluesman LC Ulmer at his home in Ellisville, MS

When traveling to the Mississippi Delta to find blues musicians, photographer Lou Bopp didn’t realize the kind of characters he’d find. While some wont venture too far into the boondocks, Bopp found some of the last musicians still classified as Mississippi Delta Blues — and he even took some pictures.

 

Leo Bud Welch, near Sabougla, MS
Leo Bud Welch, near Sabougla, MS

While some of the musicians represent a time in music history that has come and gone, there are a few that still continue the American tradition. Some may not have been as successful as the pioneers (B.B. King, Muddy Waters and so on) but they have shared the stage and room with them.
Some might be old and some might still be maintaining their youth, but the pictures capture a different kind of story, one of callousness and age-old experience.