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Faulkner, Family & Friends

Photo by J. R. Cofield (c) The Cofield Collection - The Center for the Study of Southern Culture - University of Mississippi
Photo by J. R. Cofield (c) The Cofield Collection – The Center for the Study of Southern Culture – University of Mississippi

There were many Cofield shots of William Faulkner taken through the years. From the late 20’s, until March of ’62 there were hundreds that were taken. Many photos were taken at Rowan Oak during family events, birthdays, weddings and the like. Several times there were sets of Mr. Faulkner riding and jumping his horses, Tempy and Stonewall. Mr. Faulkner also asked for shots of Rowan Oak and the grounds. A little known fact is that William Faulkner took a personal interest in photography and he spent time in the studio darkroom working on his craft. But according to ‘Colonel’ Cofield, “Bill’s pictures were awful.”

Then there were the studio portraits. Bill, as they would call him, came down four times through the years. Two portrait settings were the younger years and two were older. All of these photos through the decades were taken by my grandfather, ‘Colonel’ J. R. Cofield.

But there was one last portrait setting taken three months before Mr. Faulkner died. Granddad wanted to go bream fishing that day in late March and Dad had always wanted to photograph Mr. Faulkner. Granddad gave Dad the keys to the studio and told him to have at it. And it is that last session at Cofield’s Studio that yielded many photos that went on to become the most recognized photos of Mr. Faulkner and personal favorites of family and friends. One shot from the set became the model for the William Faulkner postage stamp, while another was the model for The Guggenheim Bust. Estelle’s favorite was a shot of Bill looking down, “as if he is watching his grandchildren playing at his feet.” Also taken from that session was Granddad’s favorite portrait of his friend Bill. And hanging in my brother’s home, with a note from William Faulkner, is the shot Mr. Faulkner said was his best ever.

Things go full circle all the time. Today, I contribute to and enjoy my relationship with HottyToddy.com Publisher, Ed Meek. Y’all know Ed, hell everybody knows Ed. As a young Ole Miss student photographer he admired and revered ‘Colonel’ Cofield. And all through the decades of service in the Ole Miss administration, Dr. Edwin Meek and Jack Cofield photographed and covered and lived the moments that made Ole Miss’ history, from the Riot to Archie to Miss America. In the end, Ed was a pallbearer for both Cofields. Then two years ago when nephew Houston Cofield walked across the stage with his Ole Miss degree from The Meek School of Journalism, Ed got up, crossed the stage to shake his hand, and everything came full circle. That circle started when young Ed Meek, fresh out of Charleston High School, was working out of Public Relations on campus and left that day in late March with Dad to take some photos at Cofield’s Studio. Ed was the third guy with Dad and Mr. Faulkner on March 20, 1962, at that last portrait setting right before Mr. Faulkner passed away.

Things come full circle all the time. This morning Houston, who has my heart more than he knows, sent me this photo. He worked in Special Collections at the library on campus when he was a student. He was back visiting this morning and thought Uncle John might like to see what he was looking at. And while all the photos mentioned above were someone’s favorite, this one is Houston’s and mine. To us, all those hundreds and hundreds of photos through three and half decades all come back to the very first snap of a shutter of William Faulkner by “Colonel” J. R. Cofield. And when I see his hard, rough name across the arm I think, “Hell yeah Grandaddy!”

John Cofield

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