Capturing History

By DAVID GUSTAFSON,

Hattiesburg’s Wayne Archer is on a mission to photograph iconic images of his beloved hometown before it’s too late.

Wayne Archer makes an effort to get behind the lens of his camera just about every single day to capture a photograph or two. And he has done so for decades. 

In fact, the soon-to-be 75-year-old (mostly) lifetime Hattiesburg resident doesn’t even bother trying to guess how many tens of thousands of frames he has snapped over the years.

“It has been a lot,” he said with a chuckle. “That’s for sure. But there’s still more work to do.”

Born in 1943 at Hattiesburg’s Methodist Hospital, Wayne has lived within a 10-block radius of the downtown business district for a majority of his life. His childhood home was on North 19th Avenue, not far from the Hercules Powder Co., where his grandfather, father, and eventually he would also work.

For the last 33 years, he has lived in the neighborhood near Hattiesburg High School – not far from Gordons Creek.

“When I was growing up here in the 1950s, we had free reign on the town. In the summertime, there were so many kids in my neighborhood that there was never a shortage of something to do. We played baseball and football and we made our way from one end of Gordons Creek to the other. We could do pretty much anything we wanted – as long as we were home beore the street lights came on.”

He attended Jefferson Davis Elementary and Hawkins Junior High School and his Hattiesburg High Class of 1962 was the first class to attend all three years at the “new” high school located on North Hutchinson Street. 

From an early age, Archer had always been interested in art and he bought his first camera as a teenager working behind the ticket counter at Hattiesburg’s Grayhound Bus terminal.

“This man came in from Arkansas or somewhere and had run out of money, but needed to get home,” said Archer. “So he sold me his German 35mm camera with an entire camera bag full of gear for just $17.

“I guess that’s where it all started,” he said. “I took photos throughout high school and even had a few published in the yearbook. I was hooked.”

Wayne gave a half-hearted attempt to study art as a freshman at Mississippi Southern College, but admits now that college wasn’t really his thing.

He kicked around Hattiesburg and New Orleans for a few years with jobs at Boeing and a stint at Hercules, and eventually married his high school sweetheart, the former Sandra Cline, and together they had a family that would eventually include three daughters and a son.

After spending 10 years managing a Grayhound Bus Station in Houma, Louisiana, they returned home to Hattiesburg to be near family.

In 1996, Sandra died after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I was sort of lost,” he said. “I was trying to find something to keep my mind occupied so I decided to revisit my art background. I bought some watercolors and set out with the idea to do some pastels of those brightly-colored houses down in New Orleans.”

Armed with his trusty camera, Wayne went down to take photos to use as reference for his paintings and had such a good time with his photography that he quickly abandoned the idea of painting and dove headfirst into the world of photography.

Although he was still working full-time for the local John Deere agricultural dealership, he began taking more and more photos every chance he could get.

“Of course, I was shooting film in those days,” he explained. “There was some really great creamy-looking paper that I had discovered and I loved the way the sepia tones looked.”

For years, Archer said he resisted the idea of converting to a digital camera, but once he finally bit the bullet, he never looked back.

“All of a sudden, you could shoot hundreds of images and only ‘develop’  the ones you liked the most,” he said. 

Early on in his adventures in photography, Archer keyed in on the buildings and memories of his childhood.

“Photography has been a way for me to merge my love with art with my appreciation of the past,” he said. “I used to drive around trying too hard to find things to photograph. That’s not how it works, though. God has done all the hard work. You just have to open your eyes and see what he has done.”

With some guidance and advice from his friend (and fellow photographer) Brent Wallace, Archer said he began critiquing his own work and began experimenting with different techniques using light and shadows and color and composition.

“It’s funny,” he said. “You can drive by the same place a half a dozen times and if the light hits it just right on that seventh time, you’re looking at an entirely new photograph.”

Your mood and frame of mind can also impact the types of images you’re able to capture, he said.

Twenty years ago, he met and fell in love with his current wife, Susie.

“I can’t tell you how supportive she has been all of these years,” he said.

After he retired from John Deere in 2013, Archer’s hobby grew into even more of a passion and while most people his age are slowing down, Wayne is speeding up.

“I don’t have any intention of stopping anytime soon,” he said. “I try to shoot photos five days a week, if possible.”

In recent years, more and more people have been taking notice of his images – including interior designers who have purchased dozens of his prints to hang in several commercial buildings including Forrest General Hospital’s Cardiac Care Center and the FGH Orthopedic Institute as well as The Front Porch Barbecue and Seafood Restaurant and most recently Chesterfield’s on Highway 98 West.

An open house is planned at Chesterfield’s from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10 to celebrate the unveiling of 15 oversized canvas prints of some of Archer’s more iconic work.

“I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to capture images of several different Hattiesburg businesses that have since been torn down,” he said. 

“I think we have an obligation to enable future generations to see the things their parents and grandparents were able to experience during their lives.”

Archer’s images can be found online at: fineartamerica.com/profiles/wayne-archer

For more information or to purchase prints, call him at (601) 307-7095.