Over the course of seven years I spent approximately 130 days in the town of Greenwood, Mississippi, as I considered the legacies of racism and segregation on the lives of people growing up in America today. The time spent was primarily focused on the Baptist Town neighborhood, a small, historic community cut off on all sides by train tracks.
In Greenwood, as in many Southern cities, structural inequalities create cycles of poverty and violence that too often result in young black men laying in caskets. The dynamics at play in this small Mississippi town reflect a larger set of connected issues that accumulate at the intersection of race and socioeconomics in America.
I am often surprised by how problematic photography can be. The way that I have tried to use the medium has been idealistic, if not naïve, and in some ways, I have been stumbling blindly through one of our country’s most complicated issues. Mississippi taught me many things—for example: documentary photography has its limitations, racism probably doesn’t look like you think it does, and it is nearly impossible to depict rich-and-poor, black-and-white, without vilifying or reinforcing stereotypes.
At best, I can only show a small portion of this incredibly beautiful and complicated place along with disconnected fragments of my own personal experiences. This work stems from my desire to better understand and counteract the deepening racial and socioeconomic rift in America. If images are capable of anything, I hope that they help plant seeds of empathy.
Mississippi is a microcosm of a story that plays out in every corner of America. History repeats itself. Our collective memory favors the convenience of amnesia over acknowledging the damage that we continue to inflict upon one another. Photography is an antidote.
Matt Eich is a photographic essayist working on long-form projects related to memory, family, community, and the American condition.
Matt’s work has received numerous grants and recognitions, including PDN’s 30 Emerging Photographers to Watch, the WPP’s Joop Swart Masterclass, the F25 Award for Concerned Photography, POYi’s Community Awareness Award, an Aaron Siskind Foundation fellowship, a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts fellowship, and two Getty Images Grants for Editorial Photography.
His work has been exhibited in twenty solo shows, numerous festivals and group exhibitions. Matt’s prints and books are held in the permanent collections of the Portland Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the New York Public Library, Chrysler Museum of Art and others. In 2013 Matt was an Artist-in-Residence at Light Work, and is invited to a Robert Rauschenberg Residency in 2019.
Eich holds a Bachelor of Science in photojournalism from Ohio University and a Master of Fine Arts in Photography from Hartford Art School’s International Limited-Residency Program. His is the author of three monographs, Carry Me Ohio (Sturm & Drang, 2016), I Love You, I’m Leaving (ceiba editions, 2017) and Sin & Salvation in Baptist Town (Sturm & Drang, 2018). He has two forthcoming monographs with Sturm & Drang scheduled between 2019 and 2020. Matt resides in Charlottesville, Virginia with his family.