October 16, 2012

There’s nothing like a hurricane to knock you off your feet and pick you back up again. That’s what photographer Ron Blaylock says of his journey back to Jackson, the reasons he’s stayed and the reasons he’s so successful here.

Sitting near the front window of his Fondren studio that he shares with photographer James Patterson, Blaylock, 36, recounts all the excuses why he thought Jackson was the last place he’d be on this October day in 2012. “I see the arts and culture and music happening here, all the reasons you swore you’d never come back because there used to be such a void,” the North Carolina native says. Blaylock’s family moved to Jackson to be more centrally located to family when he was a kid and he finished high school at Jackson Prep in 1994. “I left and thought I was never coming back.”

Living in Oxford for a time after college, making a living was tough. Blaylock worked as a bartender, a custom framer, even for the Boy Scouts of America while pursuing a passion he picked up in college: photography. “Those day jobs gave me flexibility to shoot,” he tells us. Moving to New Orleans was the jump in to shooting full time in 2002. Blaylock worked for large studios there and shot some freelance. And then came Katrina.

After the devastating storm flooded his young family’s home, they picked up and came here. “There was no formal decision to stay,” he says. “Our oldest had started pre-K at St. Richards and we thought ‘it’s easy here, people are nice and everyone is generous.’ It helped make our decision.” He says his family likes Jackson and that it’s a good hub between Birmingham, Dallas, and his wife’s family in New Orleans.

Blaylock’s first intro to Fondren came in high school. “The Recovery Room (a former bar here) was all I remembered,” he says with a mischievous chuckle. “But I came back (in 2005) during the beginning stages. It was amazing to see it blossoming again.” Blaylock says Fondren felt familiar. “It reminded me of a mini Magazine Street (in New Orleans).” He cites Fondren’s affordability, her people, access to good schools and a chance to build a business here as reasons for planting roots. “It all just happened.”

It’s kind of how his current studio came about, too. Formerly located on Jackson Street in Ridgeland, Blaylock says it just wasn’t the right fit. He had heard that Joan Hawkins Interiors was moving out of Patterson’s studio and relocating (to the Fondren Place Building at Duling and State). Friends urged him to call Patterson. “James is easy going and was excited,” Blaylock says. “The more we talked, it made sense.”

He says there are added benefits to sharing space with another photographer. “If something comes up for one of us, we’re good about the passing off of work.” Yes, there’s a sense of competition in some ways, he says, but that hasn’t proven an issue. “It’s been a good fit, really without hiccup.”

Blaylock’s clients include neighboring The Ramey Agency (who represents Entergy and Bank of the Ozarks,) Livingston Farmer’s Market, MDOT, Mojo Loco, University Medical Center, Mississippi Magazine and Delta Magazine and an up-and-coming Jackson furniture business, Interior Elements. As a photographer, he says he’s evolving. “I’ve done just about everything,” he recounts, “and that fits me well. I get bored and like shooting different things, meeting new people and visiting new places.”

And he likes music. Blaylock says the studio begins to look like a pawn shop after a while as he collects new musical gear. “Like every teenaged boy, I played guitar,” he says. “When I moved back to Jackson, several friends we’re goofing around with music and no one was drumming.” On a kit loaned to him for his son, he played around, learned drums and, with the friends Matt Benton, Michael Curran, Brian LaRose, The Electric Hamhock was born. “It’s rock and roll with blues, mostly just loud.” His musical exploits, he tells us, are “mostly for fun” and an excuse to hang out and drink a couple of beers.

Looking back on the last few years, Blaylock is reminded of a saying: “God laughs at your plans.” He says it’s true. “A giant catalyst of a hurricane flooding your house pushes you to do things,” he says. “I look back on it as a real positive. For every bit it was hard, it got me where I am.” As for the “where,” Blaylock appreciates Jackson for all the things it is to become, but mostly for what it already is. “Connections and meeting people; that’s part of what makes Jackson easy. It’s easy to get to know the community. People are generous about helping you. Word of mouth and community has helped more than any amount of ads or self promotion. It’s the people that make Jackson.”

Find Ron Blaylock in his studio, on location or teaching intro to photography as part of Millsaps’ Community Enrichment series. And you may find him taking a course there, too. “There’s this magician that teaches slight of hand. One day I’ll take the magic class and impress my kids’ friends.”