Photographer Rory Doyle shares a collection of photographs of the Mississippi River paired with words by John Ruskey of Quapaw Canoe Company.

After a trip to the banks of the Mississippi River in Bolivar County last week, I reflected on how much the river and its tributaries have meant to me as a working photographer. My gratitude for having the river in my backyard has grown in the recent months, when wild and safe spaces have become even more significant. Numerous assignments have taken me to the river — documenting canoe expeditions, camping trips, commercial fisherman, aerial perspectives and beyond. With each opportunity, my appreciation and respect for the Mississippi deepens. On a number of occasions, I’ve been fortunate to share these experiences with writer Boyce Upholt and John Ruskey, founder of the Quapaw Canoe Company. I reached out to Ruskey and asked him to write about his relationship with the river during these unprecedented times. Read his words below the photo gallery.


“Pandemic Paradise” by John Ruskey

even amongst the calamity suffered by humanity 
the cycles of life in the grand batture of the lower mississippi 
seem to be continuing on unchecked and unchanged


in the great floods 
both man and nature suffer
but in plagues and pandemics nature benefits with man’s suffering
not gleefully or gloatingly so as a dominant vs sub-dominant might do
but overwhelmingly so in flowing fabrics of flowing tapestries
the never-ending cycles of life that sometimes hide underground
like the 17-year cycle of cicada
or the leopard frog waiting moisture deep in cracks of dank, dried mud
the turtle in the deep pool
the hard-cased honey locust seed passed through coyote poop
patiently awaits the golden opportunity 
to croak or crack its shell and spread it wings 
to procreate in the wild profusion only possible in the land of plenty


the conquistadors came looking for the gold
not realizing it was everywhere around them locked into the sandy silt
carried by the big river from the wide open outspread arms of a continent
contained between the breasts of the rockies and the appalachia
what fool’s gold were we lustfully drawn towards when COVID-19 caused a general collapse in our systems and our ambitions were silenced?
even amongst the chaos of civilization 
nature’s creation fully flow forward far over the levee
in the valley of the monster river
the dragon, catfish river
the powerful and magnetic and magical and magnificent 
mississippi river
creatively wrenching life 
and rendering muddy scenes within the depths of our cottonwood kingdom
the wilderness of willows
The muddy mulberry madness
in full budding bloom
the butterflies and birds and buds in concerted celebration
tree frogs making the forest swell and contract with their trilling reedy song
least terns arriving from south america to cavort and carve 
their shallow nests in the middle of sprawling sandbars


i followed the cries and tracks of coyotes, fox, mice, skunk, rat or muskrat, beaver, river otter, bald eagle, white pelican, greater egret, great blue heron, canada geese, deer, several snakes, sliders, box turtles, mississippi map turtles, lots of butterflies, viceroys, sulphurs, tiger swallowtails and monarchs, and many moths like the nessus sphinx moth, and many other insects coming to life notably bees and bumblebees, the mosquito makes its return, and the pesky buffalo gnat is busy buzzing around, and many, many other birds, the songbird migration is on, the white pelicans have already come and gone, but other waterfowl take their place.  we’re not alone.


Less traffic
Less exhaust
Less go-go-go


More quietness
More family time
More quality time


wherever you are
our heart is with you
we’re all in this together
the river exemplifies 
the power of us all being together
working together. 
because the river, like water
connects all of us. 
our heart goes out to your heart
wherever you are
and as we say around here: 
“may the river be with you”


Rory Doyle is a working photographer based in Cleveland. Born and raised in Maine, Doyle studied journalism at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.

He was a 2018 Mississippi Visual Artist Fellow through the Mississippi Arts Commission and National Endowment for the Arts. Doyle won the 16th Annual Smithsonian Photo Contest, the 2019 Southern Prize from the South Arts organization, the 2019 Zeiss Photography Award, the 2019 ZEKE Award for Documentary Photography, and the 2019 Michael P. Smith Award for Documentary Photography from the New Orleans Photo Alliance.

He has had solo exhibitions in New York City, London, Atlanta and Mississippi. Doyle’s work has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Guardian and CNN.