Two hundred images captured by photographer John Dersham symbolically celebrate Alabama’s Bicentennial with scenery, history, culture and elements that make the state unique.
Dersham’s book, My Alabama: John Dersham Photographs a State, was developed as a way to celebrate Alabama’s Bicentennial and promote tourism and economic development in the state by showcasing the beautiful nuances and variances of topography, flora and fauna throughout its 67 counties.
The Adelia M. Russell Library in Alexander City will host Dersham on Oct. 21 at 2 p.m. with a presentation of his book, and he will have copies available for sale.
“We are excited to have him share some award-winning Alabama photography with the community as we all continue to celebrate Alabama’s Bicentennial,” said Amy Huff, library director.
While not every county is included in the book and others appear multiple times, the mission was to capture images that represent the state as a whole through picturesque landscapes, grand vistas, flowing waterways, lush farms, abandoned buildings, main streets of small towns, old barns, native wildlife and the occasional city skyline.
“I submitted a manuscript early on, and we couldn’t figure out how to pull it together. It didn’t make sense to do it by county because certain areas are going to have the same-looking views,” said Dersham.
The volume is categorized by season, with fewer photos depicting extreme winter scenes or vivid fall colors. Tallapoosa County is represented among three of the wintertime photos, including a winter snowy road in Dadeville; the observation platform at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park; and a peaceful bend in the Tallapoosa River near New Site. Other local images include Cahaba lilies and nature shots of Coosa County.
The First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka that was lost in the winter tornadoes also was captured on the Coosa River’s edge in one of Dersham’s winter photos. The other photos in neighboring Elmore County include a spring photo of the Coosa River and a shot of Spectre in Millbrook, the setting for the film Big Fish.
“Some of my favorite shots were not included, but we had to make it more about ensuring the book made sense,” said Dersham.
Being a resident of DeKalb County, it’s understandable that an increasing number of photos from this area were available from which to choose, as Dersham said he naturally has taken more photos in his hometown.
“We ended up with about 50,000 images and formed several panels to help me cull it down. It was mainly based on the quality of images and where the photo was located,” he said. “In the end, the publishers did it based on what they felt was needed to round out the book.”
Using a variety of film and digital formats, Dersham traveled around the state locating the subjects. Most of his photos are from 2015 on, which is when he signed the contract for the book; however, a select few are up to 10 years old, based on what he already had in his repertoire.
“Before, my photography was about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to photograph. But some of the trips I made for the book were to make sure I represented certain parts of the state,” Dersham said.
In the end, close to 218 photos actually fill the pages, so Dersham could squeeze in some extras. The lighting, perspective, angle and details of each photo are testament to Dersham’s flair for illustrating the beauty of Alabama.
The majority of the photographs were captured in the early hours of the morning when distinct elements stood out from other hours of the day.
“I like to arrive to my subject before daylight and wait for the best light as the sun rises. There is sunrise, fog, dew, mist, frost, wet roads – interesting elements you don’t get at sunset,” said Dersham.
His favorite things to photograph are old buildings and landscapes. The book intentionally does not feature many people, but Dersham said he also enjoys photographing human subjects.
“The reason for this book emanates from tourism, and the bicentennial committee had to approve it to use the logo as part of its official celebration,” said Dersham. “In tourism, we’re really popular as a state, but there’s a significant misunderstanding about what Alabama actually looks like.”
Dersham, who operates a visitor’s center at Lookout Mountain, is very familiar with promoting tourism and hopes people will use this book as a tool to recruit potential economic developers from out of state.
Alabama native Bo Jackson wrote the forward of the book, aligning his memories of growing up in Alabama to the chosen scenes in My Alabama. He also compares his view of the same sights, terrain and wonders as seen through Dersham’s lens to his scenery during his Bo Bikes Bama charity fundraiser, which has given him an up-close look at the state’s natural wonders.
Aside from the preface, written by Dersham, and Jackson’s forward, there is very little written content associated with the book, so the pictures speak stories of their own.
The book is published by NewSouth Books and edited by Randall Williams. It’s available for sale through bookstores and online.