Photographs Showcase New View of "Christ Haunted" South

From hand-rendered folk signs to high-dollar church marquees, religious messages and imagery saturate the landscape of the American South. In With Signs Following: Photographs from the Southern Religious Roadside (University Press of Mississippi) photographer and southern studies scholar Joe York introduces readers to the role of artistic, witty advertising from southern churches and believers. In seventy black and white images of religious signs and other ephemera, York simultaneously presents the factual while encouraging reflection and introspection.

The photographs, interviews, and reflections in With Signs Following reveal new facets about the cultural phenomenon of roadside religion. In his introduction to the volume, noted southern historian Charles Reagan Wilson accurately outlines the aim of the project. York, he explains, “explores the intersection of an abiding religious folk culture in the South and modern ways, finding religious people quite self-consciously selling God. The roadside is the medium for the message.”

York also contributes a compelling essay titled “Salesmen of Salvation” that sets a tone for the photographs that follow. The combination of images and text offers an insightful, humorous, historically grounded perspective on one of the South’s most familiar scenes. In collecting images of religious roadside signs from across the region and interviews with evangelicals who put them there, Joe York shows us the “Christ-haunted” South as it has never been considered before.

Joe York is a freelance photographer and currently works as producer and director of documentary films for the Center for Documentary Projects and the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi. Charles Reagan Wilson is Kelly Gene Cook Sr. Chair of History at the University of Mississippi.