“The exhibition in the community is about them, it’s not about me, so their perspective is crucial to consider.”
Matt Eich is one of the recipients of the is one of the recipients of the 2013 Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography. His goal of his project, ‘Sin & Salvation in Baptist Town’ is to foster understanding and dispel uncertainty and fear in Baptist Town, one of Greenwood, Mississippi’s oldest African-American neighborhoods, where the legacies of racism continue to impact people economically and culturally.
Tell me a little about your most recent trip to Greenwood – what did you concentrate on, what had changed, any big surprises?
This latest trip follows my longest absence from Greenwood since starting the project in 2010. After my second daughter was born on September 11th 2012 I made one long trip to Greenwood in December of 2012, and then did not return until October of 2013, with the aid of the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography. My main focus for this trip was reconnecting with members of the community, getting a sense of what had changed while I was gone and to begin experimenting with ways of creating collaborative content with members of the community. One of the changes that occurred is the beginning of what they are calling the Baptist Town Revitalization Project. This has been in the works for some time, so it is nice to finally see some positive change taking shape in the neighborhood.
This was also the first time that I shot film for this project. It was a way of breaking me from my routine, and forcing myself to slow down. I borrowed a friend’s Mamiya 7 to make portraits with using Kodak Portra (my favorite film) and an old Polaroid camera to experiment with the lovely and nostalgic Impossible Project Color Protection film.
In your proposal for the grant, you mentioned wanting to return to Greenwood with ‘fresh eyes.’ Did having some time away give you a new perspective?
Time away from a project always yields a fresh perspective. This break gave me a chance to think about the work as a whole and to figure out the direction I need to take as I push forward in 2014. There are still a lot of pieces that need to come into place but I’m excited about the possibilities.
You’ve documented both the upper class (and largely Caucasian) population in north Greenwood and also the lower class (largely African American) populations of the Baptist Town neighborhood. Which group was more open to you? Are there differences in how you gain access to them?
The people in Baptist Town have always been incredibly open to me, surprisingly so. It is more of a challenge to get access and to achieve intimacy with the more affluent Caucasian population, though many of them are still quite supportive of me being there and working. The hesitation I get with folks is because they are tired of being stereotyped as the wealthy people who don’t understand their neighbors. That is an oversimplification of the issues at play, so I try to communicate with both sides of town about how they are portrayed.
One of your goals is to show the work in Greenwood and create a dialogue among the residents. Essentially you want to hold up a mirror to the community. What do you expect the reaction to be?
That’s a good question, but a hard hypothetical. I’m sure some people will see an element of truth to the work, and some will say that it doesn’t accurately reflect their community. What I need to do is balance my vision of the place with the way they see themselves. The exhibition in the community is about them, it’s not about me, so their perspective is crucial to consider.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Achieving equal intimacy on both sides of the tracks. That is my ideal … where rich and poor can be seen as simply human, and the viewer can begin to draw their own connections. It is my hope that in continued visits, with more communication and collaboration that I can begin to show this community as a whole.
About Matt Eich
Born in 1986 in Richmond, Virginia and raised in the peanut-farming town of Suffolk Virginia, Matt Eich attended Ohio University majoring in photojournalism with a specialization in sociology.
During his university years, he was named College Photographer of the Year in 2006 and interned at several publications including The Orange County-Register, The Oregonian and National Geographic Magazine.
In 2007, after the birth of his first daughter, Matt began freelancing and helped form two collectives, one called Aevum, the other called LUCEO. In 2009, he relocated back to his home state of Virginia and LUCEO was formed as an official business. He has since stepped down from LUCEO to focus on his growing family and projects of personal significance.
Matt has been honored with many awards including POYi’s Community Awareness Award, The Magenta Foundation’s Bright Spark Award and invited to participate in the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass. Previously he has received grant support from the Alexia Foundation, National Geographic Magazine, The Aaron Siskind Foundation, ShootQ/Pictage, NPPA and others.
His work has been exhibited internationally in numerous group shows, and five solo shows, at The Houston Center for Photography, Lorrie Saunders ArtGallery, The Colorado Photographic Arts Center, and Blue Sky Gallery. His prints are in the permanent collections of Light Work, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and The Portland Art Museum.
Matt’s limited edition self-published book, “Carry Me Ohio” (2010), is in the permanent collections of Ohio University’s Alden Library, The New York Public Library and The Indie Photobook Library and that body of work will show at Sweet Briar College in September 2013 and Gage Gallery in Chicago in 2014. In September of 2013, “The Seven Cities,” a project about his home in Virginia will open at The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach.
He has collaborated with clients including TIME, Newsweek, Harper’s, Esquire, BusinessWeek, GQ, Mother Jones, The FADER, The Wall Street Journal, AARP, Tiffany & Company, Apple, Republic Records, Sentara Healthcare and many more and has successfully crowd-funded two projects via Emphas.is.
Matt currently lives in Norfolk, Virginia with his wife and two daughters, freelancing and compulsively documenting the world around him.