According to the 2011 federal census, Memphis and its surrounding counties form the poorest metro area in the United States with a population of a million or more. Almost one in every five of its residents lives below the poverty line. A quick ride down the streets of the River City transforms these black and white statistics into harsh reality. Once you escape the areas where the haves have so successfully and obviously secluded themselves from the have-nots, you encounter a sea of urban blight, of failed business, closed doors, broken windows, and “For Sale” and “For Lease” signs grown dusty they have hung for so long in windows that barely warrant glances from passing motorists. Shattered dreams litter the concrete. Memphis is poor, really poor. And it shows.
But there is something else here, embers of something that can’t be extinguished by hardship and poverty, that is fed, fueled, flamed by times as tough as these, times tougher still. There is a beauty here, roses amongst the thorns of economic woe, the beauty of hope. It’s this hope that spurs a person’s dreams, these dreams, gilded with the promise of a better tomorrow, that turn them into entrepreneurs and small business owners, and it’s these small businesses that are the primary focus of these photos. Or rather, the signage associated with these humble start-ups.
These images, created from scraps, outside of the realms of formal training, transcend the advertising origins that let us know what commodities, be they haircuts, smoked sausages, or statements on the human condition, lie inside the walls from which they scream at us.These are the things that mark this city for what it is, more so than the obvious landmarks that end up in the travel guides.
The Pyramid, Graceland, The Hernando Desoto Bridge – these things, while iconic in their own right, do nothing to highlight the fact that, while Memphis is a city of slim wallets, it is also a city of stout hearts, of dreams and hopes and gazes towards a tomorrow that is wishfully better than the day at hand. It’s these hand crafted works that marks this city for what it is, that hold its beauty and soulfulness, that are the real landmarks of Memphis, and I am glad, humbly so, to share them with you.