Bob Newman – Shadows of Emmett Till

Review by Wayne Swanson 

In 1955, a 14-year-old Black youth from Chicago, visiting relatives in the South, walked into Bryant’s Grocery Store in rural Money, Mississippi. Emmett Till wasn’t inside long, but he is said to have whistled at a white woman behind the counter. A few days later his body — beaten, shot, and tied to a 75-pound cotton gin fan — was pulled out of the Tallahatchie River. Two white men were arrested, tried, and acquitted by an all-white jury of killing Till, although they later admitted their guilt. Nevertheless, the lynching of Emmett Till would be one of the catalysts for the modern civil rights movement.

Nearly 70 years later, the shadow of Emmett Till’s lynching still hangs over the Mississippi Delta. Photographer Bob Newman explores the legacy of this heinous crime, as well as what Delta life looks like today, in Shadows of Emmett Till. 

It’s actually two books in one, featuring separate book blocks attached to the inside of the front and back covers. The first book block provides a history lesson on the murder of Till and race relations in the South from the 1930s to the present. “Before one can engage with the ways that Emmett Till continues to cast a shadow over the great alluvial plain known as the Delta, one must first glimpse into the past reality that still haunts that landscape,” Newman writes.

In text, poetry, maps, and black-and-white archival photos he sets the social, political, and economic context of 20th century life in the South. We see classic images by the Farm Security Administration photographers of the bleak landscape of the South during the Great Depression. We see images of Emmett Till’s life, death, and the trial of the two white men responsible for his murder. And we see images that show how race relations progressed from the early days of the civil rights moment to the age of Black Lives Matter. 

The second book block presents Newman’s look at 21st century life in the Delta. In contrast to the gritty, often grim, black-and-white historical images, Newman offers lush color photos of today’s Delta, supported by perceptive essays and poetry. We see classically composed images of the landscape — flat, green, and often wet. We see the plain, weathered homes, churches, and buildings. We see the people — black and white — at home, at work, and at play. We go inside their houses, churches, stores, bars, and pool halls. We see the ruins of the grocery store where Till’s encounter with a white woman led to his death. And we see the Black Bayou Bridge from which his mutilated body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. Altogether we see scenes of the joy, sorrow, and poverty of Delta life.

The images provide a nuanced view of the Delta today, the result of his extensive research and his own life experiences. A physician by profession but a photographer by avocation, Newman explains that he grew up in 1950s in a “Sundown Town” in Oklahoma — a town where Blacks were not allowed after sundown. So, despite being a Southerner, he had no conception of Blacks growing up. But in his medical career, a significant part of his practice focused on treating Blacks and other marginalized communities. 

As a photographer, he has focused on long-term projects about marginalized communities. He has earned praise for an ongoing series about Irish Travellers as well as this project. For Shadows of Emmett Till Newman made more than a dozen trips to the Delta and explored more than 30 towns to learn about the area and build rapport with its residents. “I have realized that talking about the history of Mississippi and learning about the people of today’s Delta can help us come to grips with the American past and move forward on a journey to better understand each other,” Newman writes.

It’s a difficult path because the shadows of the past remain. Author W. Ralph Eubanks notes in his essay in the book that a wide gulf in perceptions remains between today’s Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter mindsets. “There are no longer waiting rooms separated by race, but segregated cultural memory exists and is very much with us,” Eubanks warns. 

Shadows of Emmett Till provides both a thoughtful reminder of the sins of the past and a hopeful message about the human capacity to learn from them.


Wayne Swanson is a Contributing Editor and a San Diego-based fine art photographer and writer.


Shadows of Emmett Till, Bob Newman

Photographer: Bob Newman, born Shattuck, Oklahoma, resides Gainesville, Florida, USA

Publisher: Kehrer Verlag (Heidelberg, Germany, copyright 2022) 

Essays: Bob Newman, W. Ralph Eubanks. Poems: Patricia Smith, Kevin Young

Text: English

Hardcover book with two book blocks, Swiss binding, four-color lithography, 9 1/2 x 11 ¾ inches, 130 color and 83 duotone illustrations, 268 pages, printed in Germany, ISBN 978-3-96900-069-4

Photobook designer: probsteibooks (Sabine Pflitsch, Andreas Tetzlaff) 

Photobook editor: Magdalena Solé


Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are copyright of the authors and publishers.

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