High on the Hog: Ten Years in the Pits
Photographs of Memphis in May BBQ Fest by Lawrence Jasud
When I moved to Memphis in 1981, I set out to learn and understand Memphis. I had already figured out that my interest lay in American Popular Culture, having grown up on Rock & Roll and the wild exuberance of the ‘60s. Like Stieglitz, I felt that you made photographs wherever you were rather than traveling to exotic locations. I believe the vitality and energy in America arises from the spontaneous creations of people figuring out how to live interesting and fulfilling lives.
It was clear to me that the poles of Memphis culture were Elvis and Barbecue. My previous project was photographing carnivals, fairs and amusement parks. The Barbecue contest was an obvious extension of that work. I love color, movement, energy and visual density, packing as much as I could into each frame while maintaining an underlying visual coherence. The Barbecue contest offered me a wealth of material to work with.
My first visit to the contest was in about 1987. A student of mine who was a member of a neighborhood team invited me. He told me it was a wild 3-day party and it was. The thing I immediately loved was that it was home made and real. The people were passionate about Barbecue and fun. It felt like a bacchanal from some ancient time. It wasn’t slick. The presentation was sometimes ragged and many of the cookers were amazing works of sculpture with only a loose connection between form and function.
As the years rolled on, PR types cleaned up the event and corporations got involved fielding company teams. It got less interesting and less fun. By about 1995 or ’96 I ended the project. The things that drew me to this event in the first place were largely gone.