The Mid South – A 1350 mile drive across the USA – Introduction & Chattanooga

They say that a plumber’s house is full of dripping taps – well, a professional photographer’s harddrive is often full of unedited, unpublished, personal images that never see the light of day because there is always other, paid work that needs editing first. And so it is that is had taken nearly a year to edit the 100s of images I captured during our 1350 mile drive across America’s Mid-South last autumn.

This travel(b)log is presented purely from a tourist perspective. I will be adding some of my personal impressions, but I was not trying to break any new artistic ground or tell any particular “story” apart from “this is where we went and what we saw”. There were quite a few things that we saw that I DIDN’T capture. We saw tremendous poverty. And I will comment more on this later in the post. But I wasn’t here as a photo-journalist, and I did not wish to impose on people’s misery with my camera, just to show how poor some parts of this country really are. I’ve kept my camera firmly pointed at the positive.

And speaking of cameras … as this was a personal trip, undertaken together with the long-suffering BF, I did not bring along a pile of photographic equipment. In an effort to avoid poor BF standing around whilst I spent hours and hours and hours getting the “MUST HAVE” shot of whatever I had suddenly seen, I decided to invest in a quality point and shoot camera. All the images in this series of posts were taken with a Canon S95 pocket camera. As I needed to acquire this camera first, and our travel plans got a bit messed up (more later), the first couple of days are undocumented as I didn’t have a camera yet – a condition which nearly brought me out in hives! I will be splitting these posts into several parts, as otherwise this post would be WAY too long. You’ll find direct links at the bottom of this post.

And so to the trip. Our trip was to cover 1350 miles and 4 states: Georgia, Tenessee, Mississippi and Louisiana (with a quick dip into North Carolina). The route was London-Atlanta-Chattanooga-Nashville-Memphis-Vicksberg-Natchez-Biloxi-NewOrleans-London. Our policy was to stay off the interstates, stick to highways, see as much of the countryside as we could, and, where appropriate, stay in lovely historical bed and breakfast accomodation rather than big hotels.  Unfortunately, we caught the tail end of hurricane Ike, which was busy drenching the East Coast at that time, the result of which was a mess of an arrival journey. We were unable to land in D.C to change planes, got diverted to Baltimore, sat on the tarmac, eventually landed in D.C. and of course missed our connection to Atlanta. We were on standby for a United flight a few hours later, but United operates a policy of priority for uniformed US military personnel, of which there was an entire squad getting on this plane. There weren’t that many of them, but their luggage was heavy, so the plane left without us, only half full with passengers, lots of empty seats, but a belly full of military luggage. It is beyond me why the US army doesn’t move these folks on military transport, but perhaps commercial is cheaper!

The result was that we arrived in Atlanta in the middle of the night, sadly having lost all the time we were  going to spend having a look around this City. The next morning we headed off across the Appalachian Mountains towards Chattanooga. Still in the wake of hurricane Ike, the rain was torrential and visibility was minimal – which was a GREAT shame as what we could see of this green and lush drive was stunning! Then things got a little weird. We’re driving through the middle of lush mountains and greenery, when we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of what looked like Heidi meets Oktoberfest, got lost on the way and ended up in the United States. I thought I was hallucinating!! I was also spitting feathers as I didn’t have a camera yet, and this DEFINITELY needed recording. So in the absence of my own images, here is a link to one of the strangest ever places. It’s effectively a purpose built German/Austrian/Bavarian/Culturally confused stereotype themetown to attract local visitors. Only in America!

We arrived in Chattanooga over the Labour Day weekend, which I had expected to bring with it plenty of tourists. Instead, it seemed that the rain had driven everyone indoors and the streets were empty. We stayed in the characterful Stone Fort Inn, where we were well looked after, in a charming period room and my favourite coffee of the whole trip, the Chattanooga Blend. The next day we sourced a camera – yay!!! And we also got our first glimpse of the Tennessee River at the Bluff View by the Hunter Museum, as well as a first idea of some of the architecture that was to come.

Tennessee River

I loved this cute little sculpture outside the museum it made me smile all day long. The weather was still not on our side..

Hunter MuseumHunter Museum

Still, onward. As proper tourist, of course we HAD to visit the Chattanooga Choo-Choo! The BF and I had been whistling the tune in the car all the way from Atlanta, so off to the station we went.

Chattanooga Choo-Choo

Chattanooga Choo-Choo

Chattanooga Choo-ChooChattanooga Choo-Choo

Chattanooga Choo-Choo

Chattanooga Choo-Choo

One of the things we’d been looking forward to on this trip was food, barbequed pork in particular and we weren’t disappointed. Porkies were everywhere, and there were certainly some interesting sauce varieties to go along with it!

BBQ Pork

BBQ PorkBBQ Pork

We also visited the Bessie Smith Cultural Centre and African History Museum, which hosts a truly fascinating photographic exhibition of the history of early influencial black families in the area. As a photographer, this is a must see exhibit of social history, and served as a reminder (as if needed) of just how important social documentary photography is in telling our stories to genegerations to come. Given that photography would certainly have been a luxury this many years ago, I was hugely impressed by how well documented these families were.

Sadly, that concluded our short stay in Chattanooga and it was time to hit the road. One thing you can be sure of in this part of the country – you’re never far from a church! But this one had a particularly eery feel to it – especially in this weather, I thought.


Click HERE for Part II – Lynchburg and Nashville.

If you would like to see the full gallery of all the images I took (way more than on the blog), without the commentary, please click HERE.



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