A Jones College geography and history instructor has won the Southeastern Geographer’s Photo Essay Contest.
Caleb Smith was researching the state of Mississippi flag this fall when he happened upon a prize-winning photo opportunity. Driving to work, he passed by the Jones County Courthouse in Ellisville and was inspired by the bare flagpole where the state flag had flown since the building was built in 1908.
“When I drove past the courthouse in October, I realized that the way the sunlight hit the American flag made for a really good photo,” Smith said. “However, what was more intriguing, I thought, was the empty flagpole. My photo and essay depict the Ellisville Courthouse when the state did not have a state flag — a flagpole with no flag.”
Smith submitted his photo and essay to the Southeastern Division for the American Association of Geographer’s contest before its November conference. Members of this association voted on their favorite entries on the conference website. Smith had to wait until the closing session to learn his entry won the 2020 Southeastern Geographer’s Photo Essay Contest.
“This was the first time I ever submitted a photo for a contest,” Smith said. “An empty state flagpole is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The same old state flag has flown on a pole outside that courthouse and in the offices of that building since it was built. From July until November, there was no official flag for the state, so there was no flag on that pole, which is significant because it is rare, very rare.”
The photo and a longer version of the essay will appear in one of the four 2021 issues of the “Southeastern Geographer,” the academic journal that is the foremost authority on geography in the South. The process of creating a commission to propose a new state flag and the eventual public vote to support the new flag will be included in Smith’s updated essay.
“I know we walk past or drive past places like this every day, but we don’t think about the messages that these public places present,” Smith said. “As you walk into the courthouse, you walk between these two flagpoles that feature the flags of the U.S. and the State of Mississippi. We go inside and pay taxes, pay fines, register to vote or attend court cases in a building that has these two poles outside that fly the reminders of where we are, what laws we follow and where our tax dollars go (the U.S. and the state). I think that’s part of the reason why the entry struck a chord with so many people.”