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Today is May 30, 2020

The southern wild

Joe Mac Hudspeth, Jr. is an award-winning photographer who skillfully captures images that celebrate the magnificence of Mississippi’s wildlife and natural landscape. However, he won’t accept credit for his stunning photographs, humbly maintaining “I am only the messenger.”

By Sandra M. Buckley

The southern wild

“I’ve never met scenery I didn’t like when it had cypress, the sunrise, fog, mist and mood.” -- Joe Mac Hudspeth, Jr.

Hudspeth, who lives in Brandon with his wife of 36 years, retired two years ago after a career as a print media salesman. A lifelong Mississippian, he grew up in Oxford and has always considered himself an outdoorsman. And as a wildlife photographer, he has three published coffee table books: “In the Southern Wild,” “Return to the Southern Wild” and “My Southern Wild.” This fall, he is debuting his fourth book,

“My Best of The Southern Wild,” which is an exquisite collection of his favorite photos taken over the last 40 years.

Since 1997, his photographs have appeared as the official images for numerous Mississippi Duck Stamps and also Mississippi Sportsman Licenses. In fact, this was the first time in 25 years that the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks used a photograph on the Mississippi Duck Stamp and the first time ever on a Sportsman License. “It was an honor to have my photographs selected to grace both the Mississippi Duck Stamp and Sportsman License for some 19 years,” said Hudspeth.

His interest in photography traces back to the late 1980s, when as a deer hunter he would spend a lot of time hunting on private property off of the Natchez Trace. It was then that he realized there was a shift in his interest. “My favorite stand overlooked a cypress brake, and I spent more time watching the waterfowl, turtles, beaver, wading birds and other wildlife than deer hunting,” he said.

The wood duck was his first species of choice to capture on film. “That was because of its beauty and because I knew they were native to Mississippi and would be around after hunting season,” he explained. “At that time, however, there was no such thing as a pop-up blind. So, I created a custom blind of PVC pipe with Mossy Oak camouflage sewn to fit the frame that I set up in a cypress swamp to be close to the ducks. Then after figuring out where I needed my blind positioned to be close to them, I started capturing beautiful, frame-filling images of wood ducks.”

Next, he began photographing species of birds that came close to his duck blind and ‘posed’ for the camera. Then he ventured out on his boat for others. “While I started out chasing wood ducks and other waterfowl from a stationary blind, I learned to love trying to slip up on wading birds in my Poke boat,” he said. “Purple gallinules, common moorhens, green herons, least bitterns, snowy egrets and others were a challenge, and their breeding plumage is colorful. To be honest, I would rather have a great picture of a red-winged blackbird doing something ‘cute’ than a so-so picture of a beautiful bird just standing there.”

As Hudspeth cultivated his hobby, he would buy and read books on cameras, photography and wildlife. And as his knowledge grew, so did his camera equipment. “After I learned the mechanics of photography, I started upgrading my equipment – especially my lenses so that I could extend my range and capture more full-frame images,” he said.

“We have many native species to enjoy year-round, including deer, turkey, gators and great blue herons, just to name a few,” he said of Mississippi’s abundant wildlife. “We also have many non-native migratory species that visit every spring from Central and South America. They nest and raise their young in our woods, fields and wetlands. These visitors include hummingbirds, buntings, tanagers, purple gallinules, least bittern and many others. As they head home in the fall, our winter visitors start arriving from the north, such as waterfowl.”

The subjects he photographed expand outside of wildlife. “Mississippi is blessed to have different landscapes – the Mississippi Delta, the mountainous foothills of Northeast Mississippi, the rolling hills of Central Mississippi and the Gulf Coast,” he said. The Pascagoula River basin, Noxubee Refuge and Springdale Refuge are other favorite scenic locations of his. In addition, he enjoys the foothill scenery of northeast Mississippi, such as Tishomingo County and Bear Creek. “They are beautiful and different from other areas of the state.”

“I’ve never met scenery I didn’t like when it had cypress, the sunrise, fog, mist and mood,” he added. “Going forward, I see myself doing more of this type image.”

Over the years and while still working full time, he continued building his portfolio, selling images for commercial use and promoting his books on the side. His dedication as a photographer led to his work being displayed in galleries, offices and museums across Mississippi and gracing the pages of local, regional and national publications. He also traveled the state speaking to church and civic organizations. “This opportunity provided me the chance to meet many special Mississippians,” he added.

He discovered, though, that between traveling, promotions and keeping up with the digital advancements of film, that his beloved hobby had turned into a second job. He wasn’t spending time doing what he loved – simply photographing wildlife.

These days, Hudspeth is retired and has all the time in the world to indulge in his passion and “get back into the swamp with my camera,” he said. “That is, when I’m not chasing my new favorite wildlife – my granddaughters, Lainey and Ramsey!”

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