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The Visual South, Part III: Tourist Towns

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The current issue of Oxford American magazine, known as "the Southern magazine of good writing," is nicknamed the "Visual South Issue." In its 100 under 100 list, the magazine identifies "the most talented and thrilling up-and-coming artists in the South." This week, we're looking at five of the photographers on that list.

Kudzu lines a sleepy roadside in Cherokee, N.C., 2009.

Kudzu lines a sleepy roadside in Cherokee, N.C., 2009. Tammy Mercure hide caption

itoggle caption Tammy Mercure

How much does geography frame an artist's vision? It's hard to say; just ask Tammy Mercure.

"I don't think of myself as any particular kind of photographer, like a Southern photographer or a woman photographer," Mercure writes in our correspondence. "The South has very much shaped my photography, though."

Born in Iowa and currently teaching at King College in Bristol, Tenn., Mercure has a few ongoing documentary projects, including this one about tourist towns near the Great Smoky Mountains, a ridge that runs between Tennessee and North Carolina.

  • Cherokee, N.C., 2008. This is at the top of Ghost Town in the Sky, a western themed park. I liked how everyone had their back turned to the beautiful mountains surrounding them.
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    Cherokee, N.C., 2008. This is at the top of Ghost Town in the Sky, a western themed park. I liked how everyone had their back turned to the beautiful mountains surrounding them.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2007. This peacock was at one of the many petting zoos in the area. Most people like to observe animals close up.
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    Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2007. This peacock was at one of the many petting zoos in the area. Most people like to observe animals close up.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. Parrot Mountain overlooks the much more attended Dollywood. It is lush with birds and plants. For an additional two dollars, you can buy nectar for the lorries who will climb all over you for a taste. It seems to both excite and horrify the children.
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    Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. Parrot Mountain overlooks the much more attended Dollywood. It is lush with birds and plants. For an additional two dollars, you can buy nectar for the lorries who will climb all over you for a taste. It seems to both excite and horrify the children.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. I love the souvenir shops. There are many "hillbilly tools" available. I have a mini-series of the various products. It is an ode to Walker Evans' series "Beauty of the Common Tool."
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    Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. I love the souvenir shops. There are many "hillbilly tools" available. I have a mini-series of the various products. It is an ode to Walker Evans' series "Beauty of the Common Tool."
    Tammy Mercure
  • Clinton, Tenn. 2008. This man works at the Museum of Appalachia.  He is affectionally known as the deer man. ... His friend had passed away the day before and he went to be with the goats to feel better. They loved him and jumped all over him.
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    Clinton, Tenn. 2008. This man works at the Museum of Appalachia. He is affectionally known as the deer man. ... His friend had passed away the day before and he went to be with the goats to feel better. They loved him and jumped all over him.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2009. A popular souvenir shop theme is airsoft guns and weapons.
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    Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2009. A popular souvenir shop theme is airsoft guns and weapons.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. Dollywood is one of my favorite places.They always have a fun event going on in addition to having great rides. That day they were doing a pig roast in the square. I particularly liked his handkerchief.
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    Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. Dollywood is one of my favorite places.They always have a fun event going on in addition to having great rides. That day they were doing a pig roast in the square. I particularly liked his handkerchief.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn., 2008. Clingman's Dome is located at the top peak of the mountains. I am interested in how people process their trips through taking photos and video.
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    Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn., 2008. Clingman's Dome is located at the top peak of the mountains. I am interested in how people process their trips through taking photos and video.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Gatlinburg, Tenn., 2007. The area is known for its fall colors and they are stunning.
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    Gatlinburg, Tenn., 2007. The area is known for its fall colors and they are stunning.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. There are many lavish performances to see. This one was the Country Bear Jamboree. It has now been replaced by a Hatfield and McCoy's Theatre
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    Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. There are many lavish performances to see. This one was the Country Bear Jamboree. It has now been replaced by a Hatfield and McCoy's Theatre
    Tammy Mercure
  • Cherokee, N.C., 2009. I love the little shops that pepper the windy, steep road that cuts through the city.
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    Cherokee, N.C., 2009. I love the little shops that pepper the windy, steep road that cuts through the city.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Elizabethton, Tenn., 2007. And I loved this boy's expression and posture and how it played off the image of his father behind him.
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    Elizabethton, Tenn., 2007. And I loved this boy's expression and posture and how it played off the image of his father behind him.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. This was a part of the Dinosaur Walk Museum. It is a theme amongst attractions to transport the visitors to different times and places.
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    Pigeon Forge, Tenn., 2008. This was a part of the Dinosaur Walk Museum. It is a theme amongst attractions to transport the visitors to different times and places.
    Tammy Mercure
  • Asheville, N.C., 2008. Hillbillies and bears are popular images at the area hotels.
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    Asheville, N.C., 2008. Hillbillies and bears are popular images at the area hotels.
    Tammy Mercure

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Mercure seems to shoot with a twinkle in her eye, which she keeps out for wryly humorous scenes — like people sitting at a park with their backs to the beautiful view. She also seems sincerely affectionate for what she captures in places like Pigeon Forge, Tenn., home to Dolly Parton's amusement park, and Cherokee, N.C.

A T-shirt for sale in Cherokee, N.C.

A T-shirt for sale in Cherokee, N.C. Tammy Mercure hide caption

itoggle caption Tammy Mercure

"The pure spectacle of the towns brimming with shopping, all-you-can-eat buffets and pure entertainment stop some visitors from even seeing the nature up close and unmediated," her website reads.

She also explains that there are several things she appreciates: "The biggest is that the majority of the people I meet are really passionate about their 'thing,' whether it is NASCAR or a beauty pageant. I feel that they appreciate me for being into photography — and take the time to really show [me] something."

"I plan on living somewhere in the South for the rest of my life. The tea is sweet, and the weather is good for shooting every day of the year. And one can always find a live wrestling match every Saturday or just show up to Junior Johnson's house and get a hearty breakfast."

(See Part I and Part II)

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