The True Gospel Preached Here

Vicksburg, Mississippi

A celebration of the creative and spiritual work of Reverend H.D. and Margaret Dennis. This elderly couple in Vicksburg, Mississippi devoted more than 20 years of their lives to transforming Margaret’s former Grocery Store into a one-of-a-kind nondenominational church. The Reverend’s signs announced: “Welcome Jews and Gentiles. The True Gospel Preached Here”.

Take Time to Appreciate

Mississippi Delta

"An extensive and ongoing documentation of the rural landscape and culture of the Mississippi Delta and surrounding regions inspired by my ex-wife’s love of southern literature. The title for this series comes from a sign painted by folk artist, Mrs. L.V. Hull, and speaks of my primary objective as a photographer." - Bruce West


 Bruce West

Bruce West

Bruce West holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography from The Pennsylvania State University. For more than 30 years, he has maintained a dual career as a photographic artist and educator. His creative work in photography has received numerous awards and recognitions including fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation for the Arts, and The Polaroid Corporation.

West exhibits his photographs widely throughout the United States and Europe. Recent exhibitions include The God Factor Project at the Mosteiro Sao Martinho De Tibaes in Braga, Portugal; Mississippi Photographs at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, Louisiana; Acts of Faith at The Noorderlicht Photofestival in Groningen, The Netherlands; and Recent Acquisitions in Photography at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. His photographs are included in public and corporate collections such as The Library of Congress, the Saint Louis Art Museum, The Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum Ludwig, and the Paine Webber Corporation. West was a featured speaker at the Midwest Conference of the Society for Photographic Education, the Delta Blues Conference at Arkansas State University, the National Conference of the Society for Photographic Education, and the Mississippi Celebration at the Mississippi Art Museum. West has conducted visiting artist presentations and workshops at numerous institutions including the University of the United Arab Emirates, Washington University, the San Francisco Art Institute, and Truman State University. Recent publications include photographic essays in the spring 2009 and winter 2010 issues of Southern Cultures (The University of North Carolina Press), For From About James T. Whitehead (Moon City Press), The Next Generation: Contemporary Expressions of Faith (William B. Eerdmans Publishing), and The True Gospel Preached Here (The University of Mississippi Press). 

The True Gospel Preached Here, a collection of 62 color photographs, documents the creative and spiritual work of Reverend H.D. and Margaret Dennis, an elderly couple in Vicksburg, Mississippi who devoted more than 20 years of their lives to transforming Margaret’s former Grocery into a one-of-a-kind nondenominational church. Outside the Grocery, the Reverend posted signs announcing: “Welcome Jews and Gentiles. The True Gospel Preached Here”.


Noted photographic exhibit on Mississippi opens Thursday

For years Bruce West turned his insightful eye and powerful lens on rural Mississippi. The result is a candid collective snapshot of some of the people and settings that make the Magnolia State unique. Many of those photographs will go on exhibit in Columbus when "Take Time to Appreciate: Photographs by Bruce West" opens at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center Thursday with a free public reception from 5:30-7 p.m. 

West, a professor in the Department of Art and Design at Missouri State University, has maintained a dual career as a photographic artist and educator for more than three decades. His creative work has garnered numerous awards and recognition, including fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation for the Arts and The Polaroid Corp. 

In series like "Take Time to Appreciate" and "Spiritual Advisor to the World," West introduces his audience to intriguing personalities, particularly from the African-American community. 

There's Mrs. L.V. Hull, in her yard overflowing with brightly painted artifacts. Hull's folk art has been displayed in several galleries. 

Other photographs reveal the world of the Rev. H.D. and Margaret Dennis, a self-proclaimed preacher/artist/architect in Vicksburg and his wife who have devoted more than 20 years of their lives to converting Margaret's Grocery Store into a one-of-a-kind nondenominational church. These are only a few of the many faces visitors to the Arts Center will encounter. 

Jan Swoope

February 6, 2013 11:05:58 AM


Through the Lens: A Small Town Project


How well do you know Missouri’s small towns? Bruce West, photography professor in the art and design department at Missouri State, learned so much about Mississippi in his formulation of his book, “The True Gospel Preached Here,” that it inspired him to learn more about the place he now calls home.

This former East Coaster is trolling around small towns in Missouri to learn more about the state and the humanity of its inhabitants.

 For the Small Town Project, he has left the comforts of film and moved to digital. He never knows what he’ll photograph until he arrives in the town square.  

Listen to his interview here!


A Conversation with Bruce West, Author of The True Gospel Preached Here

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bruce West’s color photographs in The True Gospel Preached Heredocument the spiritual and creative work of Reverend H.D. Dennis, and his wife, Margaret, a self-proclaimed preacher, artist, and architect in Vicksburg, Mississippi. 
The product of twenty years of labor and multiple site visits, West's photographs are both intimate and transparent, tenderly revealing the Reverend and Margaret's love of God and for one another, their commitment to their work, and their shared transformation while aging together. The images offer unique insights into the role of spirituality in southern folk art and creativity and the joys and demands of an ascetic and inspired life.

You are from the Midwest, what inspired you to photograph in Mississippi?

In 1993, I was in desperate need of a good idea for my upcoming sabbatical proposal at Missouri State University. It was my first sabbatical proposal and I was not quite certain how to proceed. I decided to submit a very opened-ended proposal about photographing the landscape and culture of the American South. I came up with this idea because the South was the only region of the United States in which I had never traveled. It was unknown territory for me and, as such, held great intrigue for me.

I was also inspired by recent photographic books by Birney Imes and Keith Carter as well as my ex-wife’s love of southern literature. When I commenced my project in 1994, I thought I would be traveling and photographing throughout the entire South. My first two trips to Mississippi, however, convinced me that I did not need to travel any further. And it was during my second trip to Mississippi, that I met Reverend H.D. and Margaret Dennis in Vicksburg.


How did you first meet The Reverend and Margaret Dennis?

I was driving along business route 61 along the Mississippi River in Vicksburg and saw Margaret’s Grocery for the first time. I was immediately awestruck by its raw beauty; the brilliant color scheme (red, white, blue, and green), the numerous hand-painted signs displaying quotes from Bible, and the various towers (some more than two stories tall) surrounding the Grocery.

Since it was late in the day, and the Grocery was largely in shadow I waited until the next morning to visit and ask permission to photograph. the Reverend immediately started praying, blessing me, and thanking God for my coming to the Grocery. After thanking him for his blessing, I asked permission to photograph.

The Reverend assured me I could photograph but that he should first discuss “some of his symbolism.” The Reverend insisted that the eastward orientation of the Grocery was auspicious, since all wisdom and knowledge comes from the East. He showed me the tallest tower designed to hold the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments and elaborated on the significance of various Masonic symbols.

His explanations went on and on, for hours, meshing accounts about his own life, the re-telling of numerous Bible stories, his understanding of ancient history, his assessment of current politics, and more preaching for the betterment of all mankind. I tried to be patient and polite, not wanting to interrupt the flow of the Reverend’s conversation by picking up my camera.

Finally, with an incredulous look on his face, the Reverend stared and asked why I was not taking pictures. I suddenly realized he would never stop preaching and lecturing. I realized that this situation would be the modus operandi for all of my photographic work at the Grocery. I picked up my camera and started working, trying to be attentive and responsive to the rush of words, stories, questions, and prayers.

After that initial experience, did you know that you would be returning to photograph at Margaret’s Grocery?

Photographing at the Grocery was a thoroughly exciting and exhilarating experience…the site was so rich in visual information, both outside and inside the Grocery. Additionally, I immediately appreciated that the Reverend was a unique and special individual. While I knew that I would come back and photograph again, I had no inkling that I was commencing a project that would continue for the next 18 years!


What motivated you to continue photographing at Margaret’s Grocery?

While the Dennises had many guests, I am the one who kept coming back, again and again. I was driven by my respect for them, my appreciation of their religiosity, wisdom, and creativity, my curiosity about how the Grocery may have been transformed, my desire to photograph and document these changes, and my ever deepening relationship with them.

When I first arrived in 1994, I was just one of a large number of visitors who stopped to view the primitive splendor of Margaret's Grocery. After many years of visiting, however, our relationship evolved until the Reverend and Margaret called me their white son and I embraced them as my mother and father. I began to write and call the Dennises throughout the year and send them greeting cards with “donations” wishing them good health, happy birthdays, and joyous holidays.


In addition to documenting the construction of Margaret’s Grocery, what other issues do your photographs address?

My photographs celebrate the Reverend and Margaret’s  profound spirituality and imaginative abilities, qualities that enabled them to transcend their poverty and live an incalculably rich and beautiful life; a life that people from all over the world, including myself, traveled long distances to witness and share.

My images are also very much about myself, my own life history, and my desire to escape some of the boundaries or limitations of that life history. My images reflect my faith in the medium of photography as a means of approaching and appreciating the other.


Bruce West wonders what direction his life would have taken if he hadn't turned right onto Business Route 61 one day in 1994. West, a professor of art and design, was on a road trip through rural Mississippi during his sabbatical and wanted to capture the essence of life in the south.
Bruce West, professor of photography in the art and design department, recently exhibited his photos highlighting the State of Mississippi. The exhibit, titled "Mississippi Photographs 1860s-Present," was on display in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. The exhibit is a survey of Mississippi photography over the last 150 years.