I believe a preacher is called from his birth," Reverend Louis Cole told photographer James Perry Walker. "He is born into this world to preach, or not to preach."
For six years, from 1976 until the reverend's death in 1981, Walker photographed this circuit preacher, the black Baptist congregations he served, and the roads he traveled. The Reverend depicts the life and death of an African American minister who spread the Gospel and inspired his congregants in West Tennessee and North Mississippi. Walker fuses his own impressions and the reverend's stories and sermons with intimate photographs to reveal the spiritual depth of one man and the extraordinary impact he had on his flocks. In the process, Walker allows the viewer communion with a very private African American culture.
These photographs include portraits, landscapes, and intimate scenes of church services and special events. The faithful worship at revival meetings, mourn at funerals, celebrate at baptisms, and sing praise at holiday celebrations. Converted at the age of fifteen, ordained at nineteen, Reverend Cole was a true circuit preacher of the old style. He visited his four churches on a rotating basis, preaching at a different church each Sunday of the month and continually counseling his far-flung seekers. The portraits of him reveal a man of great strength and hard-won wisdom who was a pillar of the communities he served.
Alongside the introduction by Walker and a foreword by Will D. Campbell, the Reverend Cole's own words prove to be a parable of Christian struggle and energy in a hard-pressed region. He tells his life story in brief incidents, prayers, sermons, and reflections on a variety of subjects ranging from Revelations to hunting dogs. The grace and power of Reverend Cole's language heightens the spiritual ecstasy and dignity evident in Walker's beautiful black-and-white photographs. His words, Campbell's foreword, and Walker's images give testimony to the difficult trials and the abiding, powerful faith of all the reverend's congregations.
James Perry Walker's photographs have been exhibited in such galleries and museums as the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, Mississippi; Tricia Collins Contemporary Art and Taranto Gallery in New York City; the Flint Institute of Arts in Flint, Michigan; and the Basel Art Fair in Switzerland. His photographs have been published in the Southern Quarterly and Camera International. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee. Read more about the photographer at www.jamesperrywalker.com.