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New book captures Alabama's diversity

John Dersham remembers clearly the very day he discovered his love for photography. That day was Nov. 1, 1960, his ninth birthday. That was the day his father gifted Dersham with a Browning camera that he had received in 1930. It was then that Dersham’s love for photography blossomed.

“I got into it and got really serious about it from that day on,” Dersham recalled.

Although originally from Pennsylvania, Dersham ended up in Alabama through his work with Eastman Kodak company. He was in management for the company, and he ended up in Birmingham, working at their factory there. As regional manager for the Southeast, he was in charge of seven states.

When the Birmingham factory closed, he could move to any of the seven states he oversaw, and his family chose to move to northeast Alabama.

Dersham, now executive director for Dekalb Tourism in Fort Payne, recently released his book of photography called “My Alabama: John Dersham Photographs a State.” The book, published by NewSouth Books, features over 200 photos Dersham took while traveling and to each of Alabama’s 67 counties.

Dersham said the work “emanates out of the need for the rest of the world, not just Alabamians, to understand what Alabama actually looks like.”

He said he wanted to address the misconception that Alabama is flat, and he added that the book should erase some preconceptions others, including international businesses, may have about Alabama.

Additionally, this book’s release was timed to line up with Alabama’s bicentennial celebrations. Alabama has not had a book like this, simply focused on the entire state with photos of different geographical elements within state borders, produced in decades.

“This is a book for everybody,” Dersham said. He reiterated that it will be used by the state tourism board as well as local tourism associations such as the one he leads in Dekalb County.

Along with the numerous photographs, Dersham also wrote many pages about the different environments present in the state. This works highlights the fact that Alabama is the fourth most bio-diverse state in the United States.

In correlation with his book release, Dersham also has an exhibition of photos that has been traveling throughout the state under the same name as the book. The exhibition is currently in Huntsville through July in connection with the bicentennial celebration for the state. It contains 45 photos and showcases larger versions of many of his favorite photos from the book.

The forward of this book was written by Bo Jackson, and he offers the perspective of viewing Alabama from the seat of his bike. Jackson is known for his fundraiser, Bo Bikes Bama, and so he shares the views he sees on his ride as the lead in to Dersham’s many photographs.

Suzanne La Rosa, a publisher at NewSouth Books, was put in contact with Dersham through the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. It was there that the book truly came to life. “He has a pretty remarkable talent as a photographer and is also the world’s nicest man,” La Rosa said about Dersham.

La Rosa said, “Through his lens, you can really see what a beautiful, beautiful place this state is.” She also mentioned how each environment was featured in the book, showcasing the diversity of Alabama. “You can see the diversity of the landscape as well as the diversity of the people,” she said.

Dersham and La Rosa agreed that this book is important for both visitors and residents of the state. “It’s not a bad thing to be reminded that the place you live in is very special,” said La Rosa. She added that the forward written by Bo Jackson “gives the reader a chance to hear another voice. I think it’s a wonderful complement to the book.”

Dersham’s book provides Alabamians, and others, a way to recognize the beauty of the state and celebrate its history in this bicentennial year.