As a kid, I spent many Saturday afternoons in the backseat of my parents’ Buick, my chin propped on the car window waiting with anticipation for the occasional stands of kudzu that would pop up.

The sight of those amorphous green monsters in the landscape made long grocery runs between Carrollton, Alabama, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama bearable. Before the age of video and streaming podcasts, the stories I imagined from these otherworldly scenes were the en route entertainment for many weekend drives.

Four decades later, kudzu continues to captivate.

In many ways, photographic explorations of these mythical landscapes have become moments of escape from daily life, not much different from the weekend drives of my childhood. Many of the images in this collection have come as a result from being bored at a family function or long workday and wandering off to explore.

More than escapist fantasy, kudzu has also become for me an increasing exploration of the constant tug of war that exists between the past and present in the South, between efforts to control the environment and the evolutionary forces of time and decay.

As a photojournalist and an architect, I am particularly interested in the connection between the natural landscape and the built environment. I am drawn to the kudzu in the ravines and bayous of Southwest Mississippi that snake behind houses right up to city streets, quietly covering the landscape with a tangled web of leaves and vines only inches deep but unfathomably mysterious. I am especially drawn to how the plant, with its distinctive grape Kool-Aid-scented blooms, transforms these throwaway spaces into a landscape that is hard to ignore — a scene of beauty to some and a scourge to others.



Ben Hillyer is a photographer, designer and architect in Natchez, Mississippi.

For the past 20 years he has worked for the local community newspaper, The Natchez Democrat, documenting the people, places and events of southwest Mississippi. Starting as a staff photographer, he has worked in various capacities, including visual editor, creative director and other editorial roles.

His editorial work has appeared in regional and national publications including the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times. His fine art work has been featured in galleries across the southeast and on book covers, including New York Times best-selling author Greg Iles’ books “Turning Angel” and “True Evil.”