"Because I was born in the South, I'm a Southerner. If I had been born in the North, the West, or the Central Plains, I would just be a human being."
This quote by Clyde Edgerton opens the book Beer, Bait & Ammo, setting the tone for what's to come: an ode to the South. American photographer Michael Loyd Young (b. 1955), who describes the South as 'his backyard', portrays the South in a body of work that is part visual diary, part documentation, and part tribute. “I am documenting the South as I see it, whether it's hunting and fishing, or just hanging out", Young says.
Vibrantly riding the edge between snapshot and composed photographs, Young presents us with 40 images comprising portraits, landscapes, and a reportage. Printed full-bleed, often covering a two-page spread, the images offer a view into the photographer's vision of what it means to be 'Southern'. Young points his camera at hunting scenes, the homes of his friends and family, bait shops, guns, prairies and late night drinking sessions – it's an impression of him showing us around, presenting his view of the quintessential experiences of being from the South.
The book starts with a street view at dusk, showing an old truck and a woman walking away from us, wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and a denim shirt and jeans – the kind of prototypical Western wear that might look like a costume if it wasn't worn genuinely. The scene is illuminated only by light coming from a passing car's headlights and a distant shop. The book continues this way, capturing atmospheric scenes in a succession of colour photographs. Occasionally the images are punctuated by poetic pieces written by the photographer himself, or bumper-sticker one-liners that evidently for Young mark the Southern identity, for example “I didn't claw my way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables" and “Men and fish are alike…they both get into trouble when they open their mouths". Printed in various fonts with a collage style, they add to the atmosphere, similar to the scenes Young shows of bars with signs and photos and neon beer signs hanging haphazardly.
Young documents these scenes from an insider's perspective, though for the most part the people photographed ignore the camera or appear unaware of being photographed. One image shows a blonde woman in a staircase loading a gun. She is dressed in black, with big black sunglasses covering her eyes. A narrative scene with a cinematic quality to it, the image offers the feeling of being both bizarre and commonplace, leaving us wondering what could happen next. A later image shows a bearded man wearing a cowboy hat, drinking, smoking and playing the guitar all at once. An interesting aspect of his observed portraits, though, is that even though some people might be alone, they never seem isolated. There's a furious energy surrounding them, full of activity and self-possession. The people in Young's images give the impression that somebody is always with them.
The book Beer, Bait & Ammo is not only a portrait of the South, but also of the photographer himself. Filled with guns and slogans of bravado, the book is not necessarily what you might find on any given day in the South. But, Young offers us his personal perspective on the region, unafraid of romanticizing his vision, expressing it proudly and with loud love.
Beer, Bait & Ammo is available for sale from Burn Books.