After a long career as a commercial photographer, Nashville native Tamara Reynolds recently completed her MFA in photography at the Hartford Art School’s International Limited-Residency Program. Her photographs are held in collections such as The Do Good Fund, Columbus, Georgia, and Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, Nashville, Tennessee; and they have been widely recognized and published by Photolucida, The Bitter Southerner, and Oxford American, among others.
Reynolds’s photographs in Southbound are drawn from her Southern Route series, made over four years while traveling throughout the South. Southern Route is Reynolds’s homage to her home place; there she pictures kids on porches and swings, people at work and play, and many foodscapes as befits a region where food serves as a common denominator even in times of strife.
Food plays a central role in Reynolds’s work all along her Southern route (and food historian and commentator John T. Edge discusses her photograph titled Jimmy Kelly’s Restaurant (2014) at length in his essay, “Cloaking and Costuming the South”). The tall African American man in Corner Market (2012) might just have parked his van outside the gas station on Highway 61 pictured in Pumping to Please (2012), a place where, we read, soul food was available once upon a time. Certainly there is no soul food in the corner market, a cornucopia of industrialized snacks in bags of all colors, rivaled only by the outlandish hues of the soda bottles stacked in the refrigerators seen over the dockworker’s shoulder. There is better fare, surely, in diners like the Nashville eatery Reynolds photographed in Hermitage Cafe (2015), where cooks are often African Americans steeped in the foodways traditions of the region.
Reynold’s image titled Hot Springs, Arkansas (2014) may be the photograph that connects her work most clearly with ideas about the New South, and not just because it depicts a food truck, the latest food trend out of California and all the rage during the early twenty-first century. What makes this particular food truck emblematic is its fare, which celebrates a newly diverse South. Taqueria La Guadalupana is so authentic that one can order pambazo in addition to the standard tacos and enchiladas. Exotic as such dishes may seem, La Guadalupana likely has competition from other local taquerias on wheels, given the influx of Latinos into the South over recent decades, no longer now just itinerant migrant workers but rather people who are becoming Southerners themselves. Those new Southerners are complicating ideas about the region, deliciously so, if the tongue and tripe tacos at La Guadalupana are anything to go by.
This food truck is for God and country, decorated with images of its patron, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the Stars and Stripes. Is it any accident that we resort to food metaphors to understand the integration of successive waves of people who bring new cultures to the table, from melting pots to salad bowls? Reynolds’s image opens a window onto a common language that revolves around a quintessential human pleasure—experiencing food—harnessed by food trucks and other mobile food operations to make places, however ephemeral (while the truck is parked or the restaurant has popped up), and patrons flock to share in the fare for as long as it lasts. In so doing they perform a new South into being, one enriched for ongoing demographic changes in the new millennium.