Emily Cegielski and Emily Roland - The Daily Mississippian
Photographer Michael Loyd Young is on a mission to document culture throughout the world, and he isn’t leaving his home state of Mississippi behind. The burgeoning artist recently debuted his first book “Blues, Booze, & BBQ,” a documentation of the blues culture in the Delta.
Originally from Senatobia, Young was always interested in photography.
“Ever since I can remember, I was taking photographs,” Young said.
As a young adult, Young attended Northwest Junior College where he received a degree in journalism and played “school photographer.” But after school, he put his artistic ambitions aside and focused on building up a steel company and the car racing company, MSR Houston.
“For about 25 years, I devoted most of my time to my companies and making money,” Young said. “But about 10 years ago, someone very close to me suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it sort of put everything in perspective for me. So I decided to let other people run (my companies) so I could spend time doing what I’ve always wanted to do.”
And that is exactly what he has done. Inspired by the culture of symbols, specifically in Asia and Africa, Young traveled overseas for years creating collections of photographs until he decided he wanted to take things to the next level.
About five years ago, he met renowned “National Geographic” photographer, David Alan Harvey, who suggested that Young publish a book if he wanted to establish himself as a serious photographer.
“He said if you want to do a book you should really get back to your roots and find something that you can relate to that’s not the world, but how you grew up,” Young said.
This led to the creation of “Blues, Booze, &BBQ.” The book started off as photographs of blues musicians playing music, but soon evolved into much more.
“After about a year of traveling over [to the Delta] and photographing these musicians on stage, I realized it really wasn’t about musicians playing on stage,” Young said. “It was more about the culture and what impact music had on them. So, I started hanging out with blues’ guys at their homes. I started seeing more of what blues was about.”
Young learned that the blues were not just about music. The poverty stricken culture leans heavily on food and alcohol, as well as the music, as Young’s book title suggests.
“Everywhere I went it was all about the food, obviously the booze, the music,” Young said. “So I try to show the culture of those three ingredients that make up the blues.”
For Young, the culture is a way of dealing with circumstance.
One look at the economic situation in the Delta shows an area full of poverty, but the life the communities exude is refreshing.
“’Blues, Booze, & BBQ’ is about the culture of the Mississippi Delta and how the music keeps the people of the Delta going,” Young said. “There is a lot of poverty in the Delta, so they live through the music. It is their way of coping.”
The book documents the blues in colorful images, filling the pages with life as opposed to the solemn, cry for help usually associated with the blues. Young did this consciously to show the encouraging aspects of blues music.
“There are a lot of good books about the blues out there but most seem to be in black and white and sort of that other side of the blues,” Young said. “I try not to photograph negative social issues. I find photographs in color and the positive aspects of where you are. that’s what I tried to do with the Delta. Show more positive aspects.”
Young’s obsession with positive outlook and positive culture is something that he integrates into his every aspect of his life and work, not just the blues.
“Even with five million children in Rwanda starving, there are also positive things,” Young asserted. “You can find positive aspects. I hope people find that no matter how crappy things may be, there is always something positive if they look.”
As a purveyor of hope and positivity, Young donates all of his proceeds from his photography to charitable organizations. The Delta Blues Foundation in Clarksdale will be benefiting from the sales of “Blues, Booze, & BBQ.”
“Fortunately because of my companies, I don’t have to make a living doing this. So, I try to tie in whatever project I’m working on with something related to it,” Young said. “For the blues, for example, I went to the blues museum and any proceeds that come from the book or sales of any prints related to the book are going to the Delta Blues Foundation.”
Those who would like to support the Delta Blues Foundation, or are interested in blues culture, can find Young’s book at Off Square Books in Oxford.