Alex Webb was a 23-year-old photographer in 1976 when he put his belongings in a New York darkroom and headed south in his beat-up Volvo, which doubled as his bedroom. His experiences led his meanderings, and he occasionally picked up assignments that financed his work.
Like many of his projects, “Mound Bayou” began by chance, an initial exploratory trip that later turned into something larger. He had read a short article about the history of Mound Bayou, a Mississippi community that was one of the first incorporated black townships in the United States. Intrigued, he drove into this small town and stopped at Smitty’s Chicken Shack, its lone restaurant, and struck up a conversation with Ellie, a woman of about 30, and two of her children. Ellie invited him back to their house, where he started to photograph. The relationship with that family led to another family, then another.
Although Mr. Webb is best known for his color work, Mound Bayou is the one early black-and-white project he regrets never completing. Projects in Haiti and on the United States-Mexico border pulled him away before he finished his work in the Mississippi Delta. He and James Estrin discussed the project via an email exchange, which has been edited.
Q. What did you find when you arrived?
A. I found an isolated small town — a few stores, Smitty’s Chicken Shack and a pool hall — on Route 61, also called “The Blues Highway,” which snakes through the Mississippi Delta. Most of the residents of Mound Bayou lived in little ramshackle houses along the dirt roads branching off Route 61.