When the time came for Jennifer Causey
to work on the follow-up to her book, “Brooklyn Makers,” she took the opportunity to reconnect with her roots in the South. The result became “Southern Makers,” an impressive compilation of 25 photo essays about and interviews with craftspeople throughout the South. “Southern Makers” covers a diverse group, including bakers, denim makers, woodworkers, bladesmiths and distillers. From the rural towns featured in the book to established creative hubs, the common thread of community connects them all. For us, we’re proud to call the South home, and we’re stoked to see the documentation of this creative revival taking place. To gain some insight on the maker movement taking place below the Mason-Dixon line, we reached out to Jennifer for some perspective and to tell us more about the creative process behind “Southern Makers.”
You’re sharing interesting narratives through your work. What informed your interest in photography, and how’d you get into telling the stories of others?
I always knew I wanted to do something creative and dabbled in a few different things before settling on photography. After college, I moved to New York City to work on the business side of advertising. I often went out at night and photographed my friends at bars, interacting and having fun. Something clicked and I knew I wanted to learn all there was to know about photography. I moved back to Georgia, where I grew up, to go back to school for photography. This was during the time when digital had just been introduced, so I worked a lot in the darkroom and learned a lot from developing my own film and making my own prints. I worked on a project at the time, photographing people at a music venue I frequented at night and in their home life . In a way, this was a precursor for the Makers Project.
While in school, I focused primarily on still life and food photography and I pursued a career in this field when I left. After working for 10 years, I wanted to get out of the studio and photograph more people and environments. Living in Brooklyn, NY, around so many inspiring people, the idea for the Makers Project just popped into my head one day and I knew it was a perfect way for me to explore this new avenue.
Following the release of your first project, “Brooklyn Makers,” what lead you to focusing on Southern craftspeople as the subjects for your second book?
I grew up in Georgia, and often went back to visit family. It always felt like home to me and I wanted to give a voice to some of the people doing amazing things down there.
How does the South as it exists today compare to your memory of it from the past? Did it confirm or debunk your opinion?
The South has grown a lot from when I grew up there. I was raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, but it was more like growing up in a small town. We played in creeks and could explore in the woods for hours. Unfortunately, the area is now overgrown with box stores and suburban sprawl. However, there are interesting parts to every place, sometimes you just have to look harder to find them. In Brooklyn, everything is so in your face, but in the South, people are working just as hard and are just as passionate. Sometimes I think they don’t get the credit they deserve.
Although the cities you traveled to are separated by hundreds of miles geographically, were you able to make any connections and notice similarities between them?
There was a similar feeling to every place. The people were all friendly and passionate, but you could tell that family and home life, as well as work, drove people. Sometimes in New York, I think we get a little too caught up in the “work life” and trying to stay afloat or get ahead. In the South, I think I could appreciate a little more of the process of things, rather than the result.
Dining in new places and learning the favorite dives of locals is one of the best parts of traveling. What restaurants did you fall in love with? What were some of the best memories you formed at the table?
I have several friends in Athens, GA, so I went to a few great places there. My favorite is Five and Ten (the boiled peanut hummus is amazing!). Charleston also has a really wonderful food scene: Leon’s Oyster Shop, Butcher & Bee, Two Boroughs Larder, and Xiao Bao Biscuit to name a few.
A friend of mine joined me on part of my trip to Charleston (in the middle of the summer), and we had a great time eating and drinking our way around town while trying to stay cool.
Was there a particular city that you wished you could have spent more time in?
Nashville. I definitely need to go back and explore more there. In the few years since I completed my project, so many new places have sprouted up.
When traveling to city to city, what did you listen to while on the road?
Shovels and Rope, from Charleston, were on constant rotation during my trips South. Also, Karen Elson, Jack White and, of course, Johnny Cash.
For you personally, what was the lasting impact of working on “Southern Makers?” What projects have you been working on since, and what’s next for you?
I really enjoyed seeing so many people getting back to making things with their hands. I’m also happy to see so many people enjoying and acknowledging the beauty and importance of hand made. I have been working on a lot of side projects outside of photography, learning ceramics and weaving, while also trying to come up with my next photo project.
Jennifer Causey is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Purchase her book, “Southern Makers,” from Chronicle Books here.
All photographs courtesy of Jennifer Causey