I've only been to Tennessee once and it hardly counts as a visit since it was little more than a look out the window of Memphis airport on a layover between a Phoenix to London flight. I don't remember anything about the view other than that the landscape was flat as a pancake. The only other thing I have to go on when it comes to Tennessee was a pre-teen best friend who was obsessed with the movie The Thing Called Love. "Look out Music City," the heroine shouts off the top of a building when she finally arrives in Nashville, "cause here I am and I ain't never leaving." Needless to say, the two of us never made it to Tennessee and our dreams of country-music stardom came to naught. But that's probably for the best.
During a San Diegan visit to my paterfamilias in 2006, one afternoon I dropped by the amusingly-named Museum of Photographic Arts where an exhibition of photographs by Mike Smith were on display. I don't know what suddenly brought Smith's photos back to mind, but I loved the images then and I still love them now.
Here, the classic visual trope of an outsider looking in, framing the oddness of an odd place with the surprising sensitivity of a very good storyteller. Smith moved to Tennessee via New Haven and Boston in 1981 to take up a professorship at East Tennessee University and spent his time travelling around the region, documenting the strange transformation of rural Tennessee as suburban tendencies took root.
The book - You're Not From Around Here - was published in 2004 and then toured various locations as the exhibition I saw in San Diego. I stupidly didn't buy it at the time and now wish, of course, that I did. Luckily, it's my birthday in a few weeks and if no one buys the book for me, well then I'll just have to get it for myself.