Arkansas Sketchbook

“Over in Mississippi”
Beverly Buys | 2013 | Cyanotype

For photographer Beverly Buys, the Delta most often begins at the Best Western in Helena. Setting off on sprawling, paper-map-guided routes, her drives emanate out and away from this point of departure, charting squiggly-lined courses—radial points that top out around 100 miles—that take her deep among and into places that seem familiar but aren’t. And in looking through the resulting images, one thought takes hold: that what’s been captured in the blue-toned cyanotype image could be anywhere. And in more than one sense, it could.

While that impenetrable sense of anonymity so common to back roads seems to pervade the images the Hot Springs native has captured over the years, so many of the places she’s stumbled upon in her early-morning and late-night expeditions are ones she’d probably have the hardest time rediscovering. However, in speaking with her about her work, there’s something that seems to mirror the serendipitous nature of coming across those places once and never again, a broader reliance upon coincidence and happenstance reflected in the actual development of her photos—frequently marked by what she calls “happy accidents.”

Because while so much of her early instruction in photography emphasized the importance of capturing a perfect image, in recent years she’s started to embrace those elements that unexpectedly impact her work. Say, a blot of water that appears beside a church, bisected by a telephone pole, mirroring a puddle in the dirt road below—or, more significantly, that time a pipe burst in her basement, waterlogging and irrevocably altering photos from another series. (It took a little more time before she was fully able to appreciate that as she does today.) Even the nature of the medium, an early photographic process in which paper is coated with an emulsion made from iron salts, exposed to the sun and washed in her backyard with the hose from her garden, requires the waiving of control.

“I think I’ve kind of designed my process so that there is a lot of chance in it,” she says. “And I’ve kind of embraced the fallibility.”