Published on June 30th, 2016 | by Warren Hines0
Gravity is Stronger Here
Spectator’s Pub and Eatery was full of revelers as Halea Brown took to the microphone, rapping to Eminem for karaoke night. With her short hair and abrupt, confident mannerisms, Halea is distinctly Southern, openly lesbian and profoundly Christian. On this particular night, over four and a half years ago, a photographer from New York City happened to be in the audience at the levee-side bar and grill. As Halea walked out to leave, Phyllis Dooney chased after her, introducing herself and initiating a half-decade long project photographing a rural, Washington County family, revealing a cross-section of America through the life and times of Halea’s Mississippi.
Gravity Is Stronger Here, the photo book, is scheduled for a North American release in April of 2017. The Hopwood Award winning novelist, Jardine Libaire, has contributed poetic works of non-fiction based on visits to Greenville, Miss. and observations of Halea’s family. Phyllis Dooney’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and American Photo. The writing pairs nicely with the pictures, depicting life in the Mississippi Delta. A piece entitled 5 Haiku ends:
“Driving through deep mud. Only rule is: never stop, Or worse, change your pace.
Civil War musket balls in the alligator snapping turtle’s shell.”
The photograph opposite 5 Haiku shows various interests of a rural family crammed between the FRP finished walls of a trailer. An electric guitar, an amplifier and a deer head mount protruding out of a children’s bedroom off of the kitchen clutter a photo of a close-quarters kitchenette, complete with a seating nook across from the stove and mini fridge.
“I’ve made a conscious effort not to make it judgmental or poverty porn,” Phyllis explained to me in a conversation about her upcoming book. “”There’s a lot of dignity there—comedy, tragedy, hope loss and gain. I’ve tried to balance it.”
The world Halea Brown lives in has pushed LGBT people, their rights and treatment into full focus as Phyllis and Jardine’s project has been worked to completion. While Halea takes center stage in the book’s exploration of her family’s inner landscapes, her mother, Damien Hollis, and Halea’s girlfriend, Destiny are also key subjects.
A Jesus impersonator is the subject of another photograph. He is walking barefoot along the gravel shoulder of Highway 1 across from Walmart in Greenville wearing a bloodstained robe, bearing a cross fashioned from cypress 6×6’s. Jardine writes about some of Damien’s dark convictions in New World Order Sonnet:
“The Beast will Rule the World. 13: 15-17, Revelation. I got this DVD at a gun show — watch and you’ll believe it. Alex Jones and Glenn Beck are prophets of the change. There is no non-violent way to defeat it. Ask any Freemason if you think I’m talking strange.”
Phyllis has even spent a Christmas with the family and photographed Christmas traditions they uniquely observe such as putting a stocking over their heads and attempt to eat a banana. The text of the book delves into life along the Mississippi River from tow boats to snake rodeos.
Gravity Is Stronger Here illustrates a side of the Mississippi Delta not often considered. It reflects a confluence of faith, four-wheelers, sexual and regional identity that gives a life and a face to the issue of LGBT rights in the wake of Mississippi HB 1523. Now is a good time to see the LGBT community as friends and neighbors in the wake of the anger and violence. Halea Brown is certainly a person of integrity whose beauty and struggle shines through in Dooney’s photography.
Anyone interested in the project Gravity Is Stronger Here can sign up for updates online here: http://www.gravityisstrongerhere.com/. Dooney & Libaire will be sharing news and extending special offers for preorders and other exclusive materials as the publication date nears.
Warren Hines is a writer and columnist based in the Mississippi Delta. You can read more of his work here: https://warrenahines.journoportfolio.com/.