Wednesday, February 8, 2023

The Last Picture of My Father — A Tim Ivy Memorial to his Dad


C.B. Ivy was a pastor and a man of God

Tim Ivy is a former Ole Miss and New York Times photographer. He lives in Lafayette Springs currently but spent seven years working for the Times. He has also worked for other major U.S. newspapers including the Minneapolis Star-Tribue and the Jackson Clarion ledger. He completed this tribute to his father CB Ivy after CB’s death in 2008. For more on Tim Ivy’s remarkable career, click here.
“Daddy’s gone.”
The shallow, solemn voice on my cell phone spoke to me while I stood at the self-checkout at a local grocery store. I’d been in touch with my sister all morning as she was in my father’s hospital room in Oxford, Miss. It had been only two days before that she informed my brother and me that he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after a doctor visit. Now my father, C.B. Ivy, was gone. The date was Oct. 17, 2008.
My father didn’t support my decision to become a photographer. He was an old-school black man, raised in the South during some of its harshest history. He started working at the age of 9, plowing a huge field on the family farm behind a single plow and one mule. He was later part of the “Great Migration” of African-Americans to the North in search of better opportunities. He retired as a forklift driver in an aluminum mill in Madison, Ill. in 1984, after 30 years. He was a hard-core, blue-collar worker and staunch union advocate. He believed in hard work and passed on that ethic to all of his children, including me, the youngest of five.
He loved hunting and the outdoors.

His leeriness of my decision to be a photographer was born from this blue-collar work ethic. He just couldn’t understand how anybody could make any decent money shooting pictures. But I stuck to my decision and used that inherited work ethic to give a full effort to my dream. I was a full-time working photographer while still working on my B.A. in journalism at the University of Mississippi. I was regularly traveling the region shooting for the state’s largest newspaper as well as The Associated Press and national magazines. I landed three prestigious internships while in school at the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, The Birmingham Post-Herald and the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis. I was also chosen to attend the elite Eddie Adams Workshop.
Tim’s mother Louise and C.B. Ivy.

My accomplishments changed my father’s mind and he would later brag to his old friends about what I was doing. He also became one of my most documented subjects, always willing to pose for my camera.
I’ve always known that photography has the power to communicate to an emotion that’s often incapable of verbal analysis. I’m not sure if a picture is worth a thousand words because I think that, in many cases, no words are available to narrate the power of an image. My father never knew that he had a huge impact on me as a photographer. I’m just recently realizing that impact, myself.
Collecting pictures was big in my family. Daddy was adamant about taking care of old family pictures and I learned my history through those images. There were stacks of photo albums with old black and whites taken throughout the 20th century. I would occasionally pull out those albums and scroll through them while lying on the family room floor, asking my parents about who the people were. Such questions always spawned a plethora of reminiscent stories of days of old.
I didn’t realize it as a child, but I always saw an indescribable beauty in the images. Not just visually, but emotionally. I learned the importance of preserving precious moments to aid in the recalling of those moments at a later time. I was always eager to preserve those moments from the time that a maternal uncle gave me an old black and white Polaroid Land Camera. There would be a couple of other cameras added to my arsenal in the coming years: a 126 Kodak Instamatic, a 110 Kodak Instamatic and another color Polaroid camera. I eventually bought my first 35mm as a present to myself for my high school graduation. I was always there in everyone’s faces, preserving family memories.
The family member to whom my lens was most attracted was my father. He was always an easy and gracious subject; always willing to pose for a portrait. His multiple personal hobbies also made for easy pictures: working in his garden, tinkering with old radios, playing his old Gibson guitar as well as his Divine call to duty as a preacher and pastor. Daddy was probably the single most frequent person I’ve ever photographed and it was always fun.
He always lived close to the land.

The family all gathered in Mississippi for this time of sadness that has caught us off guard. I’ve brought an envelope of pictures with me, as well as a CD of images, to add to the countless images already gathered by my sister and mother. Sadness evolves to joy as images of Daddy recall memories of a man we all loved so much. All of the facets of who he was are staring at us from these images.
The most heartwarming to me was one that I shot during my early student days in college. I was always eager to practice with my camera, so I asked my parents to pose for a portrait. For some reason, my father had on a hat, not sure why. They were posing against the dining room wall when my mother suddenly reached over and tickled my father’s neck. It happened so fast that I didn’t quite nail the focus but it was an enduring capture nonetheless. It always brings a smile to my face.
It is said that an artist must experience pain before he can truly find his voice or vision. When considering the importance of captured moments of my father’s life, how they help to keep his memory alive, I’m made to realize the truth of this theory. Seeing my father devolve in his last days from a man who was always fiercely independent, to one who was dependent on others for even the simplest of tasks, has made me more aware of the physical and emotional pains of persons whose stories I’m privileged to tell with my camera. Being able to truly empathize with their conditions will hopefully help me to better tell their stories.
Tim’s Daddy nearing the end.

Having a vast collection of images of my father, my family and our history has reinforced in me the importance of what it is that I do. I’m not just someone who takes pictures. I’ve been granted the distinct privilege of visually communicating the lives, times and stories of people, communities and cultures. The purpose of this duty is not only for immediate record, but to serve as a permanent documentation for future generations. Like archaeologists who study cave paintings to understand stories of given cultures, perhaps one day my images will be studied to understand the history of my time in this world.
At the end, the burden of medical tools took their toll. 

But the Good Book was always a source of strength.

C.B., when he could only walk with the help of a walker.

A last kiss goodbye from the family.

The final walk of C.B. Ivy.