Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

Dreams of hip-hop stardom from rural Louisiana: 2018 Alexia Foundation student photography grant winner

April 11, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Jackson, La., rapper Javonte Ferguson inside an abandoned house. “It’s a very small town. Nobody in this town is backing you. Nine times out of 10, your family isn’t going to back you. If you tell your family, ‘I want to be an artist. I want to go worldwide with my music’ — where we’re from, this small-a‑‑ town, they’ll never believe you. People take you for a joke. No one believes in us out here, so believe in yourself.” (Graham Dickie/)
A home along Louisiana Highway 19 on the way from Baton Rouge to Clinton, La. (Graham Dickie/)

“In East Feliciana Parish, La., and the surrounding countryside there happens to be one of the richest and most soulful wells of hip-hop talent in the United States, evoking a bygone golden age of local Southern rap. Bootleg CD salesmen stand outside seafood shacks and hawk the newest mix tapes by rising local stars, 16-year-olds become parish-wide sensations within a matter of months, and strip clubs rule the night with music from the immediate area. The musicality extends outward, curling along state highways and through the dense bayous, moving into tinier towns, cultivating new generations of musical storytellers in the storied home of the Blues,” said Graham Dickie in his project description.

Dickie is the recipient of the 2018 Alexia Foundation student photography grant to continue with this work. The award pays tuition for graduate-level classes and program fees during the a semester at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with up to a maximum of $15,000 paid and an additional $1,000 cash grant to help produce the student’s project. The Alexia Foundation, committed to supporting visual storytellers who educate and expose social injustice, has been awarding these grants to top students and professionals for more than 25 years. Each spring at New York’s Syracuse University, a panel of industry professionals considers scores of proposals in the highly competitive contest.

“I have fond memories of a night in Baker by a moonlit pond when Jason Robertson and Myron Barnes, a.k.a. Rudy and Ron Wright, harmonized,” Dickie told In Sight. These were their lyrics: “I was born and raised in America / And God freed the slaves in America / Tell me why these people really scared of us / Man they trying to take us out America / It’s hard to live / When your skin black / These cops in the streets don’t know how to act / You ain’t gotta run, they’re gonna still shoot your back / And when you dead you ain’t never get no justice back / And that’s just how it go.”

Here is a sampling of images from his award-winning project.

The Baton Rouge rapper Webbie performs for a hometown crowd at the Bandit. (Graham Dickie/)
Swampland outside Baton Rouge, La. (Graham Dickie/)
Israel Lodge aka Izzy , Ronald Videau, and Cambren Mose aka Beezy Bee hang out on their block in Saint Gabriel, La. (Graham Dickie/)
Rappers cast shadows on a fence before a concert. (Graham Dickie/)
A concert crowd in Baton Rouge. (Graham Dickie/)
Searching for cottonmouth snakes by a pond in Baton Rouge. (Graham Dickie/)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

More on In Sight:

Sexual abuse survivors use traditional healing to recover from trauma on Spirit Lake reservation: 2018 Alexia Foundation professional photography grant winner

To upend perceptions of race, this artist explores face-painting traditions and masks

Finding race and compassion in the Mississippi Delta


MaryAnne Golon is the Director of Photography at The Washington Post. Before joining The Post in 2012, MaryAnne was the director of photography at Time Magazine and a senior photography editor there for more than 20 years. She graduated with honors from The University of Florida with a B.S. in Journalism.

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