Natchez native transforms local scenes into high fashion
NATCHEZ — Whether they knew it or not, high-heeled readers of Italian Vogue recently got a snapshot of life in Natchez as it hung from a woman’s hips.
Printed on a pleated poplin skirt around the waist of a regular woman in Milan pictured in the “Street Style” section of the fashion magazine’s blog, was an image taken by professional photographer and Natchez native Sarah Ball.
Some locals might recognize the image as a non-noteworthy fixture in their every day lives — a kudzu-wrapped telephone pole on Canal Street near the old tollbooth.
But for Ball, it’s beautiful.
In her photographic collection of Natchez, Ball tries to capture the layers of mystery and history and the unique narrative of Natchez that surrounded her childhood, she said. And now, the still images of her hometown she so deliberately froze with a click can be slipped into, buttoned up or belted.
Three garments sold by the popular clothing chain Anthropologie and released in the spring line are covered with prints of Ball’s images of Natchez. The images are ones she took on long trips home after setting up a friend’s large-format view camera.
Her camera of choice for shooting Natchez is appropriately old-fashioned looking. It’s the kind of camera with an accordion-like base and a hood, which those unfamiliar with the art form would likely see in an old movie before they would see it around town. That is, unless they’ve spotted Ball riding around Natchez in her 1983 wood grain Chrysler Labaron convertible, her photo equipment riding shotgun.
The collaboration with clothing was the first of its kind for Ball and lent new life to her art, she said.
“It’s just exciting to see (my photographs) transformed into something that people can make their own,” Ball said.
A resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., Ball said it took moving away from Natchez to see the landscape and its relationship with the people who live here with an artist’s eye. Ball, the daughter of Dr. David and Gwen Ball, makes visits back to Natchez often.
Her collection of photographs taken over 10 years in Natchez doesn’t include people, but it’s local residents’ interactions with the landscape that drives her curiosity and focus.
In one of her photos, an orange tarp someone put up to organize or keep garden tools out of the rain, Ball can only guess, is kept in place by a nearly dead potted plant. A birdbath sits in front, surrounded by overgrown grasses and dandelions.
“I try to look for some little evidence of human activity or how people live,” Ball said.
“That’s also where the mystery is. There’s this thing that somehow got there, and you don’t know the story.”
Judy Collinson, the executive director of women’s apparel at Anthropologie, also purchased a print of the image with the orange tarp.
In addition to the sunlight mingling with the tarp in a striking way, the photo, in a way, paid homage to the life and habits of the person who called that house and that yard home.
“(Someone) had created this thing, it was visually interesting, and to me, it was beautiful.”
Ball said she got hooked up with Anthrpologie when Collinson asked a mutual friend of hers for a list of all the creative people he knew in New York City. After pinpointing Ball, Anthropologie designers chose three photographs to print on a silk blouse, a cotton dress and the poplin skirt.
Ball said it was likely the colors and subjects designers thought reflected the South that made them choose the photos they did for the “pink cottage blouse,” “crepe myrtle shirtdress” and “kudzu skirt.”
Ball said after her usual month-long excursions to Natchez, she looks forward to getting back to the lab to develop her 4×5 negatives and talking photography with her friends and colleagues in the field.
But Natchez remains her landscape of inspiration.
“I see a kind of mystery about (Natchez) — the people and the landscape lends itself to the narratives (prevalent in the) South.
“Maybe I project what I think of the South to whatever I’m looking at.”
Whether it’s a beautiful old house that someone let blend into the elements, an abandoned school bus nearly hidden by kudzu or garden hose handing on a wrought iron fence, Ball said she likes to think the Natchez images project their own life. And Ball said it might be her personal connection to home or the hustled pace of the city that makes it her favorite setting for her work.
“There’s something a little more intimate, something quiet (about Natchez). It a voice — but kind of a quiet voice,” Ball said.
And like the number of individuals from Milan to Brooklyn who will wear the clothes with her stamp on them, Ball appreciates the individuality of Natchez.
“There’s always some kind of quirky element, something a little bit off I notice that catches my eye, draws me in makes me want to set up my camera,” she said.
Ball’s collection of Natchez photos can be viewed at www.sarahballphotography.com.