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Cofield on Oxford — First Time's the Charm

Jack Cofield only got to photograph William Faulkner, in a portrait setting, one time. That’s right, once. But, he certainly made the best of it.

Photo by Jack Cofield (c) The Cofield Collection - Special Collections - University of Mississippi Libraries
Photo by Jack Cofield (c) The Cofield Collection – Special Collections – University of Mississippi Libraries

Grandad had been behind the camera for all the hundreds of other shots, going back to 1930. There had been four other studio portrait settings and many shots of Faulkner family functions at Rowan Oak. From Jill’s first birthday to her wedding. Parties, horse jumping, shots of the house and grounds and more.
Dad had always wanted to photograph Granddad’s old friend Bill. Granddad knew it and when he called Dad that day out at Public Relations to tell him to come on, the University Photographer abandoned his post without leave! He and Ed Meek headed up Jackson Avenue to Cofield’s.
Dad was 34 years old and long since a master. He was fourth generation and had been loading film in the dark since he was five. Grandad knew that too and with certainty of a fine result, told him to have at it, gave him the keys to lock up, and went bream fishin’.
Dad and Grandad both shined a dim light on their own skills when it came to photographing William Faulkner. They never had to do a thing but focus. Among friends in the relaxed setting of the Studio, Mr. Faulkner was a natural in front of the lens. He would walk in and sit down, look at the camera and all you had to do was click the shutter. Granddad knew that too as he headed out Jackson Avenue to Sardis.
Photo 2
Photo by Jack Cofield (c) The Cofield Collection – Special Collections – University of Mississippi Libraries

So on March 20, 1962, Grandad’s old friend Bill walked into Cofield’s and sat down and the result was the finest photographs ever made of the most famous citizen this little town will ever have. By now he was a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Man of Letters, a Nobel Laureate. And by now he only had three months or so to go before he would be gone.
From this set of photos came the model for the painting and bust at Ole Miss, the bust at Rennes 2 University and the US postage stamp. Also from this last setting came Grandfather Cofield’s favorite portrait of Faulkner, and another shot was Estelle’s favorite of her husband. Mr. Faulkner told Granddad that they were the best photographs ever taken of him and his signed copy to Dad now hangs in my brother’s home.
Dad only photographed Faulkner once, and he made the best of it. The first time was the charm.

Courtesy of John Cofield, a HottyToddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, “Col.” J. R. Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was Ole Miss yearbook photographer. John also attended Ole Miss. Contact John at johnbcofield@gmail.com.

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