Saturday, 26 May 2012

A Perfect Fit

Lest anyone think the most important equipment debate is between a shirt-pocket compact cam and a sling-over-the-shoulder entry level DSLR, here's Carl Weese's new Honda Fit packed up for a two-day photography jaunt through Massachusetts and New York State. Carl tells me that the small brown bag on the far right, besides a laptop and two hard drives, contained a change of clothes and some toiletries. All the rest is photo equipment. Also, there's another case under the tripod that you can't see; it held extra 8x10 film holders and two big lenses for the 7x17" view camera.

Incidentally, Carl noted with some amazement that over the course of one 366-mile leg of the 874-mile trip, the Fit's mileage was 10% better than the EPA Highway MPG estimate, even though he ran the A/C part of the way! It outperformed its EPA estimate for the trip as a whole, too. Not too shabby for hauling all this gear.

It has to hold Carl, too. Although he's not wide, lucky sod, he's quite a bit taller than the average Joe.

Carl Weese, Ballfield, Keeseville, New York

And here's an example, if you can call it that, of why Carl goes out. The web image was scanned from a 7x17" contact platinum/palladium print
made on Masa paper, a Japanese tissue with a rough surface that Carl says works surprisingly well for contact prints. The original is of course exquisitely detailed, and vivid and luminous despite its gentle contrast. The web image is only the merest approximation of the print.

Here's the 7x17 set up at the Transit Drive-in Theater, Lockport, New York, 5/22/07.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Getting up to Date on Stacy Kranitz and CNN and the Portrayal of Appalachia

The question of CNN's edit of Stacy Kranitz's images of Appalachia continues to engage lots of us.

Here's a trail of some of the discussion.

Colin Pantall discusses the controversy under the heading Pain, Dentistry, and Appalachia on his blog, here.  

Joerg Colberg has responded on his blog Conscientious in his usual thoughtful way, here,  under the general heading Photography and Place.

Roger May places this conversation into the context of the history of representation of Appalachia on his blog Walk Your Camera, under the heading Perpetuating the Visual Myth of Appalachia, Part Three.    

We have discussed some of these issues before on this blog, in conversation about the work of Shelby Lee Adams, under the heading Is Shelby Lee Adams a Realist or a Pornographer?

I personally think photography's power comes often in its capacity to challenge the viewer to examine the perspective on an image that the viewer brings to the image when the viewer looks at it.

Myra Greene's work -- which I offered for consideration earlier today -- is, to her, at least in part about asking people who look like the people in her Best Friends portfolio to consider themselves as part of a group.

Shawn Michelle Smith's comments on Greene's work may also apply to our images of other categories of people or places, like Appalachia: 

Smith says, in Myra Greene's work, "Images initially read as benign portraits of a cross section of white American life, yet the impetus for their creation lies in an undercurrent of racial description.   

"By photographing friends, peers, and mentors, Greene visually ponders if photography can capture and describe the nuances of whiteness.  

"Do gesture and environment allude to a lived truth, a performance by the sitter, or stereotype implored by the photographer herself? 

"These photographs offer descriptions instead of resolutions.  Readers charged with dissecting coded information, are confronted with their own notions of race."

In the meantime, in the context of this discussion, Florida-based photographer Christian Harkness has brought to my attention a story in a recent T/Style supplement to the New York Times about the cultural context and the audience for the performance of African American music in the Mississippi Delta. 

You can find it here.

The photographs for this story (see example, above) are by Mark Borthwick, a New York-based photographer whose work here is another case study in seeing ourselves as others see us.  

Maybe the blown-out compositions he uses here capture some of the experience of the Southern sun?

Myra Greene is an Honorary Southern Photographer

Myra Greene is not, technically, a Southerner. She was born in New York City and now lives and works in Chicago. She was formed as a photographer in St Louis and New Mexico.

Her concerns as a photographer are, however, among the perennial concerns of Southern artists -- the body, memory, race, and the absorption and transmission of culture.

These concerns are fully present in a remarkable portfolio Some of Her Best Friends are White, featured today in the LENS blog of the New York Times.

Greene also has a Kickstarter Project going on, here, to support publication of this portfolio. I've signed on and encourage you to do so as well.

The images in Her Best Friends are companion pieces to images in another portfolio of Greene's work, Character Recognition, a series of self portraits that raise questions about what it is that we make of what we see when we see another person, in our culture, and in the context of our history.

I think these are remarkably composed, haunting images that have special relevance for us in the South.

I think Myra Greene should be regarded as an Honorary Southern Photographer.

SXSE on La Lettre de la Photographie

Congratulations to Nancy McCrary and all the good folks at South by Southeast (SXSE) who are featured today on the photography blog La Lettre de la Photographie.

Go here.

The piece features a great interview with Nancy, full of background on this publication, as well as hints about what's to come in future issues.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Dustin Lance Black is Angry about Being a Southerner

We'll get back to photography in the South soon, but in light of our recent conversations about stereotypical views of Appalachia, I want to reflect for a bit about my response to an article in this week's New Yorker.

The New Yorker article is about a movie, and movies are a kind of photography, so I don't think I'm too far outside my usual focus in doing this piece. This is a new movie, just coming out, set in the South, named Virginia, named for the central character, not the location, of the movie.

Although the nominal setting of the movie IS Virginia Beach, VA, even though it was actually filmed in Michigan.

Go figure that one. There is a major motion picture studio in Wilmington, NC, which I'm sure would have been happy to make this movie, if for some reason the State of Virginia had not been available.

They do make movies in Virginia, too, though Black and Friend seem blissfully unaware of it. 

You can see the Preview of the movie here.  And read the New York Times's review of the movie here.

But I direct you to this movie, not for the movie, but for rome comments in this week's New Yorker from the movie's writer and director, Dustin Lance Black, an Academy Award winning script writer and director who grew up in Live Oak, TX.

Black wrote a brilliant script for a powerful movie called Milk, about the gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Black won a richly deserved Academy Award for his work on this movie.

Now Black has written and directed a new movie, Virginia. He decided, in the run-up to the opening of this movie, to sit down for an interview with The New Yorker's Tad Friend.

Black and Friend apparently had a good and jovial conversation, during which, apparently, Black decided to unload on his native region.

All Southerners, Black told Friend, really dream of getting out of the South, and all really dream of moving to Los Angeles. Southerners, in Black's account, "all flock to the Gulf of Mexico on our vacations and pretend, but we know, when we're wiping off the oil with little baby wipes, that this isn't the dream."

Black's brother Marcus died recently, of cancer, and Black wants us to know that "he got out of the South physically . . . but mentally and emotionally I don't think he ever did." As though there is some link between his death from cancer and his inability to get out of the South "mentally and emotionally."

Black himself, however, "got out," he tells Friend, with "an abiding air of gratitude," because his mother married a soldier and moved the family to Fort Ord, California, and Black then moved on to Los Angeles, and presumably to the fulfillment of his dreams. 

Black's comments to Friend about the South left Friend with the impression that a movie like this would NEVER be shown in the South. 

Virginia is opening this weekend, writes Friend, in his New Yorker story, in an art movie theater near you, "as long as you're near an art house pretty far from the actual South."

Such comments might have been understandable  in the New Yorker in 1952, but in 2012, they are simply unacceptable. The New Yorker Editorial Staff ought to be ashamed of themselves for publishing such an out-of-date and  condescending piece.

This movie will be shown, and will find an appreciative audience, for sure, in Atlanta and Athens, Ga, and in Raleigh, and Durham, and Chapel Hill, and Charlotte, NC, and in dozens of other towns and cities across the South.

Besides, I've been to Los Angeles, and I thought that Gertrude Stein got it just about right when she said of southern California, "There's no there there." Southern California seems to me to be a place of images and facades and illusion, a place lacking in history and community.

I'm going to give Black a pass on his comments, because -- if one is an artist -- the story one tells about oneself is the story one tells to make possible the creative adult life that one seeks to live. The Story of the Artist who is Born in the South and Feels He Must Go Elsewhere to Thrive as an Artist is an old and familiar Southern story. We know that story well, and we try to forgive those who feel they must use it in their marketing.

After all, one's story is one's own business, I think.Although I strongly suspect Black will find he has a larger audience for this movie in the South than outside of it.

But Friend's role in this is inexcusable. 

Friend clearly needs to get out of New York City more, needs to visit a region where thousands of exceptionally creative and artistic people are making rich and meaningful lives for themselves and making exceptional art out of the complex, and, yes, often difficult and challenging history of the South, and the personal experience of making meaning out of growing up in and living in the South.

After all, so much of the art of the South is the art of America, from blues and jazz to Faulkner and O'Connor and Walker and Angelou.

Friend digs up the old joke Pat Conroy claims his mother told him when he told her he wanted to be a Southern writer. "My mother," Conroy says, "once told me, 'All Southern literature can be summed up in these words: On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to Sister.'"

Conroy could tell that story, and make that joke, because it was a self-deprecating joke, a joke that acknowledges the literary legacy of the South made by a young Southern writer who hoped to find his place in that legacy of imaginative struggle with Southern history. 

This story is relevant only to Conroy's own story as an artist and a Southerner. 
Here's the official plot synopsis for Virginia.

"VIRGINIA is a funny, touching drama that looks at the American Dream and what it takes to keep it together.

"VIRGINIA stars Jennifer Connelly in the title role as a beautiful yet unhinged single mother who struggles to raise her son Emmett while dreaming of escaping her small Southern boardwalk town. Her long time affair with the very married, Mormon Sheriff Richard Tipton is thrown into question when he decides to run for public office. 

"Things are further complicated when Emmett begins a romantic relationship with Tipton's daughter. Virginia and the town are full of secrets and everyone knows Virginia can only keep things together for so long. "

The Preview makes the movie look tragic and funny, and the plot summary makes it sound like a charming variation on the genre of the Southern Movie, which is of course the movie about life in small towns populated with colorful and quirky characters who all speak with Southern accents.

We've seen this movie before, of course; some recent versions include Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias, and The Help.

You can read the results of this interview on page 23 of The New Yorker's issue for May 21, 2012. I can't link you to this interview because it is behind a pay wall, but you might want to pick up a copy.

I'm firing off a note to the editors of the New Yorker but I wanted to share the gist of my comments with this blog's readers before I do.

Now, back to Southern photography.

When I read about Virginia's Virginia, I thought about the image above, by Marion Post Wolcott, of a country store and juke joint in Melrose, LA, in 1940, one of the small number of images made by federal photographers on Kodachrome during the Depression.

It, and others like it, are on display now in a show called Full Color Depression, at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies, through July 23rd, 2012. Definitely well worth a look, if you happen to be in Durham.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Catching Up -- Jeff Rich and Jerry Atnip

Some of the photographers We Watch Out For have work on display at the moment.

Jeff Rich has images from his portfolio of work on the French Broad River, from his WaterShed portfolio, on the Flak Foto blog, here.

Also, the Atlanta Airport is opening a new terminal -- the Maynard Jackson International Terminal -- and Jerry Atnip has work on permanent exhibition there.

So, good news all around!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

As Others See Us: Frugal Traveler Edition

This doesn't have much to do with photography, but Seth Kugel, the New York Times' Frugal Traveler recently spent three weeks wandering from Winchester, VA to Savannah, GA on back roads and on a budget of $100 a day.

In this piece, he describes photogenic small towns, BBQ joints, and scenic attractions he ran across along the way, such as the Great Dismal Swamp in eastern North Carolina, above.

Go here.

Worth a look. Its always good to see what folks Who Are Not From Around Here make of the South.

There is also a good bit of discussion about travel photography on the Frugal Traveler's part of the NY Times website, including advice he's received from the NY Times photography department.

And he's not a bad shooter, either.

Shane Lavalette on fototazo

Shane Lavalette's portfolio for his High Museum of Art commission to photograph*in the South -- or at least some part of it -- is now available for viewing at the  fototazo blog, here.

Shane has also just had his proposal to publish a book-length version of this work funded through Kickstarter, where you can see some more of the images from this project.

Shane says this about his method of proceeding with this portfolio:

"Over the past few years in particular I had grown interested and fond of old time music, and dived into listening to everything from blues to gospel ballads to bluegrass.

"Music was a fertile topic for photography, but I knew early on that I wanted to explore it more playfully so I avoided any real documentary outline for myself.

"I intended to visit historically relevant places and musically significant people but allow that to simply be the thread that would loosely tie things together. This opened up my practice in a completely refreshing way."

So, Shane's work on this commission is to be read as a playful exploration of the South, with its music serving as a thread, without any real documentary outline, but nonetheless a refreshing experience for the photographer.

Definitely worth having a look at Shane's work, to see what you think.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Even More on Stacy Kranitz and the Way We See Appalachia

Roger May continues the conversation this week about CNN's edit of Stacy Kranitz's photographs of Southern Appalachia on his blog  Walk Your Camera, here.

Roger is doing well on his own, also, featured in Issue 38 of Fraction, go here and scroll down.

Roger reports that the estimable John Edwin Mason has been involved in the conversation, making the comment that “Contempt for the white working class is the last acceptable prejudice for (many, not all) middle-class liberals.”

He's got a point. Even more important, he's got a blog we need to pay much more attention to.

UPDATE: has picked up the discussion, here.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Susan Worsham and the Ladies of Richmond on NPR's Picture Show

Richmond, VA photographer Susan Worsham and images from her Some Fox Trails in Virginia portfolio make up the fifth and final entry in this week's series of images from the South on NPR's Picture Show blog.

Worsham earned this recognition because she is one of the 100 Superstar Southern artists recently designated by Oxford American Magazine.

Worsham's story is one of  leaving and returning and, in her words, "photograph[ing]  the landscape of my childhood, but through the lens of my adult self"

The images here are especially of  Worsham's neighbor, Margaret Daniel, Worsham's oldest neighbor on Bostwick Lane, and  one of Worsham's muses, "one of the last threads" remaining from her childhood.

In her entry on the NPR blog, Worsham meditates on he work as an artist, especially a Southern artist,  and, being Southern, she tells a story:

" I can remember one particular time when I visited Margaret. I looked out of her large picture window and saw what looked like a nest or hammock of small red berries draped between the winter trees.

"I asked Margaret what it was. She answered, "Why, that's bittersweet. Bittersweet on Bostwick Lane."

"Maybe that is what it means to me to be a Southern artist. Putting sugar in my tea to make it go down easier. Maybe not hiding the real taste, but being able to taste both the bitter and the sweet"

Living in the space between the bitter and the sweet, living creatively in the tension between the bitter and the sweet -- that's life, creative life in the South.

Worsham truly deserves her growing reputation as one of the South's best young artists. She's a Southern Photographer We've Been Watching Out For for a long time, and we are glad to see her getting this national recognition from NPR.

Brandon Thibodeaux and the Mississippi Delta on NPR's Picture Show

Texas photographer Brandon Thibodeaux and his portfolio of images When Morning Comes are the selections for May 10, 2012 on NPR's Picture Show blog.

Thibodeaux earned this recognition because he is one of the 100 Superstar Southern artists recently designated by Oxford American Magazine.

This is a portfolio of exceptionally powerful images documenting life in the Mississippi Delta, especially in and around the small village of Duncan and the village of Mound Bayou, the state’s first completely African American settlement.

The story of Mound Bayou is an archetypical Southern story, worthy of a Faulkner to tell it, or a photographer like Thibodeaux to document it.

The NPR site tells it like this:

"Jefferson Davis, the president of the Southern Confederacy, had a brother, Joseph.

"And Joseph had a plantation. And on that plantation, a man named Benjamin Montgomery was born into slavery.

"Montgomery managed the plantation until the end of the Civil War, when he bought it from Davis and built an autonomous community of freemen.

"Hard economic times ensued, and Montgomery sold it back — but his son, Isaiah, executed his father's dream: He bought more than 800 acres in the wilderness of northwest Mississippi and founded an independent black community called Mount Bayou."

Now, that's a Southern story.

I'm grateful to Thibodeaux for bringing it to us. He's definitely a Southern Photographer to Watch Out For.

I think the best Southern art -- including its photography -- engages stories like that, and the people who have lived them, and the places in which they have been lived out.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Tammy Mercure and Tourist Towns on NPR's Picture Show

Bristol, Tennessee-based photographer Tammy Mercure and her portfolio of photographs from Southern Appalachian tourist towns are today's selections on NPR's Picture Show blog.

Mercure earned this recognition because she is one of the 100 Superstar Southern artists recently designated by Oxford American Magazine.

The mountains have for generations been a place that Southerners have gone to get above the heat and the humidity.

Appalachian tourist towns range from the relaxed elegance of a Cashiers or a Highlands to the full-blown tackiness of a Pigeon Forge or a Gatlinburg.

Mercure's images tend to show us the tacky side of mountain tourist life.

A number of these images are also about the sublime indifference of tourists to anything except amusement parks, gun shops, and images of Dolly Parton, when the natural beauty of the mountains is all around them.

UPDATED Stacy Kranitz and the Visual Depiction of Appalachia

We had a look recently at Stacy Kranitz's images of Appalachia on CNN's photography blog. The folks at CNN chose images from a much larger body of Kranitz's work for their blog entry.

The work as presented drew the attention of another photographer of Appalachia, Raleigh, NC-based Roger May, who found those choices disturbing.

He believes, and quite rightly, too, that CNN's choice of images perpetuates stereotypes about Appalachia -- and about the rest of the South, for that matter.

Their choice of Kranitz's images showed us the usual subjects -- snake-handlers, strippers, and members of the Klan -- not folks like the young woman in the image above.

He wrote about this on his blog, Walk Your Camera, in a piece called Perpetuating the Visual Myth of Appalachia, and wrote Kranitz for her reaction.

She agreed with him, fully, and together, they have engaged in a fascinating interchange, all of which is on May's blog.

The visual depiction of Appalachia -- and of the rest of the South -- is a subject of major concern to everyone photographing in the South.

The conversation going on here between May and Kranitz is well worth attending to, and joining, for that matter, if there's room for the rest of us in their dialogue.

UPDATES -- this story has attracted wide attention in the blogosphere.

There is an interview with Stacy Kranitz about the controversy on the Revivalist Blog, here.

 Joerg Colberg has picked it up on his CONSCIENTIOUS blog, here

Joerg Colberg says this:

 "I think there are two things we can learn from this.

"First, the internet can serve as a corrective when it comes to these kinds of events.

"Second, this story can also teach us a valuable lesson about stories that come from places outside of the US.

"It’s very important to keep the mechanisms that created the CNN story in mind when viewing, for example, photography produced in places like Africa."

AND, I'm sure there is more to come

Anderson Scott, Whistling Dixie

Atlanta-based photographer Anderson Scott has an exceptional eye, and an amazing sense of timing.

How else could he make images like the one above, or the one below, that say so much about the people involved, and about some of the more complex and crazy aspects of Southern culture.

He's been photographing Confederate re-enactors -- in the field and in battle, as well as hanging out around the encampment and attending the Jefferson Davis Birthday Parties and all the other attendant activities these folks get up to in the pursuit of their fantasy that the South won (or should have won) -- the Civil War.

Scott gets these folks just right in his comments for a portfolio of work he published in SXSE magazine last year.

Scott says, "reenactments involve several hundred to many thousands of (overwhelmingly white) people camping out in a facsimile of 1860s army life, with a mock battle or two thrown in.

"At the reenactment, I found a population that seriously believed that this world would have been a better place had the South won.

"I also learned that this population routinely acts out its beliefs in elaborate alternate-reality events, not just reenactments, but also many other public and private functions.

"These events seem to combine political magical thinking (“If I wish hard enough, the Confederacy will return”) and personal magical thinking (“Here at the reenactment I am the dashing Confederate officer I rightfully should be, rather than the functionary that I am at work”)."

These images suggest other kinds of magical thinking as well. Like the thoughts running through the heads of the two guys in the image above who are taking exceptionally un-paternal interest in the young blond woman sitting between them.

Then there is the look on the face of the young woman in the right foreground of the image at the top of this blog entry -- my guess is, she's asking herself how the hell did she let herself get dressed up in this silly dress and sitting on a toe-sack in front of that mean-looking white woman and that flag, and just when a photographer walked by.

This work represents, to me, the best send-up of Old South iconography, and its sad, desperate, fans since Susan Harbage Page's Postcards from Home project, her images of Klan hoods made out of gingham cloth and Wal-Mart shopping bags.

Scott's perhaps most truthful image in this portfolio is this one, of a frightened and pathetic little boy alone in the woods, with only his way-too-big gun to help him feel safe. It would kill him if he had to fire it, but for the moment he's safe in his sad fantasy that his gun makes him a real man. 

Scott is publishing a book of his images made while sojourning among the Confederate re-enactors, with the Columbia College Chicago Press, called Whistling Dixie, and its coming out in late summer of 2012.

I've ordered my copy. This one is clearly a keeper.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Frank Hamrick: Photography is like Chicken

Louisiana-based photographer Frank Hamrick is today's featured Southern photographer on NPR's Picture Show blog.

Frank earned this recognition because he is one of the 100 Superstar Southern artists recently designated by Oxford American Magazine.

Frank makes beautiful photographs, and he has some interesting things to say here about being a Southerner and being a Southern artist.

He also says that photography is like chicken. 

I'm having trouble making that connection.

Maybe that's because I recently looked into some of the world's traditions and practices around the consumption of meat.

I found that some cultures do not eat beef. Some cultures don't eat pork. Some cultures don't eat shellfish.

But, among the world's carnivores, I could not find anyone who was a defender of the chicken.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Southern Photography on the Blogs

There are so many folks showing work on the internet these days, all one can do is notice what one can notice and not feel too bad about all the things that one is missing.

Or so I do believe, and I'm sticking to it. Here are a few interesting sites for Southern photography up at the moment.

Durham-based photographer Christopher Sims made it on to the Best 100 Superstar Southern Photography List with his photographs taken at Guantanamo Bay and now NPR is showing some of his work HERE in recognition of that fact.

Watch the NPR Daily Picture Show site the rest of this week -- they promise to have 4 other members of the 100 Superstars features this week.

Wandering photographer Stacy Kranitz  makes amazing photographs, and you can see some of the images she made on a recent tour through Southern Appalachia if you go here to the CNN Photography Blog.

The winners of this year's Houston Center for Photography Fellowship Awards are Isa Leshko and David Politzer, and you can see their work on the Fraction Magazine blog, here. And look out for a review of Jeff Rich's new book Watershed while you are there. 

University of South Carolina grad Sarah Kobos also has work featured in Issue 38 of Fraction, here.

And if you just can't get enough of Atlanta, check out the Atlantagram, here.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

SXSE for May Visits Nashville

The online ezine South by Southeast (SXSE) breaks new ground in its May issue (IV-2), with its first issue devoted to photography in one Southern City (in this case, Nashville), and its first Guest Editor, Nashville-based photographer Jerry Atnip.

The result is an issue jam-packed with great photography as well as information about the arts scene in Nashville.

Included are portfolios of work by Nashville photographers Bill Steber, Hollis Bennett, John Baeder (see image above), Norman Lerner, Bob Delevante, Marty Stuart (see image below), Jim McGuire, Robert McCurley, and John Guider.
 There are also interviews with people important to the Nashville arts scene, including  Anne Brown of The Arts Company Gallery Paul Polycarpou of Nashville Arts Magazine, and Susan H. Edwards from the Frist Center.

There is a whole bunch of other good stuff, as well, including a portfolio of work by Allison Jarek, a recent BFA graduate of the SCAD. And you can see it all for a very reasonable subscription price.

So, don't put it off any longer. You know you should subscribe. You know it, you really do. 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Gale Stevens and Lisa Elmaleh Practice Wet Plate Collodion on 1:1000

The online photo magazine One: One Thousand brings us two photographers for May who are masters of the wet plate collodion process and who apply it to great effect in documentating the experience of devastation, both natural and man-made.

We tend to think of photography as being about transparency, about bringing us the illusion of a clear view of reality. Alternative processes, especially the wet plate collodion process, often complicate the image we see by adding artifacts of the process itself. on the surface of the image so they come between us and the image itself.

The result can be distracting, even annoying, when not used well, because the process can seem to interfere with the process of seeing.

In the work of Gayle Stevens and Lisa Elmaleh, the subject is devastation, either the havoc created by hurricanes on the fragile coast of Mississippi or the degradation of the Everglades landscape by rapid population growth in Florida.

In both bodies of work on offer here, each image simultaneously shows us what has come to be, but also reminds us of what was, and thus what is lost. This doubleness of vision is mirrored and deepened by effects of the wet plate collodion process.

Illinois-based photographer Gayle Stevens says that she has been drawn repeatedly to photograph the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina to Pass Christian, a community of artists on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  

She notes that many of her images record the way that nature has begun to reabsorb the signs of human settlement, "like a shroud." 

Traces of the destroyed and abandoned and memories of what was here remain, for Stevens, "the essence of this place," where the loss of community is, for Stevens, "the most devastating aspect of this natural disaster."

Brooklyn-based photographer Lisa Elmaleh says that she works in the wet plate collodion process because it "renders light slowly and reveals the passing of time, a quality which is essential to my work"

She embraces the idea that the Everglades is a unique ecological system, valuable for its place as a source of Florida's abundant variety of plant and animal life, and central to the way water nurtures life and cleanses the air and the land.

Yet this vital habitat is under serious threat. Today, over half of the land originally occupied by the Everglades has been taken for agricultural use or for human habitation. The flow of water through he Everglades must be supported by pumps, channels, and floodgates.

Elmaleh's goal, in this body of work,  she says, is to"preserve an essence of the Everglades, a land we are rapidly losing without knowing the magnitude of our loss."

Elmaleh's images remind me of some of Sally Mann's work on Civil War battlefields and on the ruins of Southern plantation houses; they have the same haunting, melancholy look, a look that richly complements the sense of loss that pervades them.

Anyone who has read Faulkner's Go Down, Moses knows the abiding Southern melancholy is in part a lament for what has been lost, but it is also a grieving over the fact that the cause of that loss is all too often self-inflicted.

Good work here, work worthy of our thoughtful contemplation.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A Right to Sing the Blues -- Southern Musicians and Photographer Jimmy Williams on the NY Times LENS Blog

Today's NY Times LENS blog features the work of Raleigh, NC-based photographer Jimmy Williams, especially his long-term project to photograph Blues musicians as part of the Music Maker Relief Foundation's efforts to preserve blues music by financially supporting older musicians.

Partnering with the Foundation, Williams has photographed a bunch of Blues musicians, most in their 70s and 80s, many of whom had never been photographed professionally.

In exchange for their time, Williams has granted the Foundation and the musicians unlimited use of the photos, while also sharing a percentage of his print sales with the Foundation.

Williams' work is a model of a photographic practice that seeks to reveal the dignity of its subjects.

Williams says, “Blues musicians are the very threads of American music.I try to photograph them in a way that elevates them on a level that I think of them.” 

Congratulations to the musicians, and to Williams -- these folks are getting recognition they all richly deserve.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Matt Eich Mentors Ian Bates in Ohio

The LENS blog of the New York Times is a fine place to learn what's happening in the world of documentary photography and photojournalism.

Lart week, there was a fascinating piece by James Estrin entitled Growing Up Lost in Appalachia, about the work of a young documentary photographer named Ian Bates. 

Bates photographs in Ohio, so his work would not normally fit within the focus of this blog, but in this case I'm making an exception because the story says that Bates is being mentored by one of the South's best young documentary photographers, Norfolk, VA-based photographer Matt Eich.

Good for Matt for taking on this role, and congratulations to Ian for showing us the western side of Appalachia. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

Kael Alford Comes Home to Photograph the American South

Dallas, Texas-based photographer Kael Alford joins Shane Lavalette and Martin Parr in this year's Picturing the South show at the  High Museum of Art, up in Atlanta from June 9th through September 2nd, 2012.

The work Alford will have on display is from her portfolio Home on the Water, a body of work she has made while covering post-Katrina Louisiana.

Alford is best-known for her photojournalism, for her work in dangerous places like Iraq. Born in New York, she had never been to the South before she was assigned by a magazine to cover post-Katrina Louisiana. She's now been working there for five years.

Alford did have some ideas about the world she was entering because her grandmother was from coastal Louisiana, the daughter of French and Native American people, who, Alford says, told her stories as a child about shrimping, and about coastal life, and about family, and loss, and place -- all the basic stuff of Southern stories, and of the Southern experience. 

After her experiences covering war-torn places, she says that photographing in Louisiana after Katrina was a way of coming home.

After her war work, she says, "America felt distant to me, but then I discovered Louisiana, which is like a foreign country to many Americans. New Orleans in that moment was like the places I'd been – the airport was closed, the place was a physical wreck, the people were uprooted and I had a personal connection to Louisiana through my grandmother. I felt comfortable and purposeful again."

Alford's connections to her subjects, and her emotional response to this place, so familiar and yet so strange, in many and often complex and conflicting ways, come through this body of work with rare intensity and depth.

You can read about Alford's career, and about her work in Iraq and in Louisiana in a long and deeply personal interview she did for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma with Donna DeCesari, an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas.

You can hear Alford talk about her homecoming in Louisiana, and about her work there, and see lots more of her images from this portfolio in a video, here, also from the Dart Center.

All I can say to Alford is, welcome home, and thanks for coming on down.

When the Misrach show and Alford's show are both up at the High this summer, that's going to be a powerful combination of photographic visions, and a powerful and compelling reason to head for Atlanta.

Shane Lavalette Photographs the American South -- Updated

New York-based photographer Shane Lavalette joins Martin Parr and Kael Alford as photographers commissioned this year by the folks at the  High Museum of Art in Atlanta to make a portfolio of work in the American South.

This project is the latest redaction of the High's ongoing series of commissions to bring distinguished contemporary photographers to the South to make work for the High's photography collections.

The group show of their work will be up at the High from June 9th through September 2nd, 2012, under the title Picturing the South.

If I were one of these folks, however, I would be more than a bit miffed at the High right now, because the High has chosen to show their work in tandem with another photography show called Picturing New York, a show of 150 photographs from the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and including work by All The Usual Subjects.

You know, Berenice Abbot, Walker Evans, Harry Callahan, Diane Arbus, etc, etc, etc.

Further, the High's publicity for this pairing privileges the New York crowd over Lavalette, Parr, and Alford.

If you don't believe me, go here to have a look at how they promote these tandem shows.

The New York work gets top billing, and by the way, while you are there, just in case you have a few more minutes in your busy Atlanta day, you might stop into the next gallery, because  "Also on view is Picturing the South, a fascinating look at new work . . ."

Ouch! "A fascinating look"? Who wants to be fascinating? And why are they closing this show before Atlanta Celebrates Photography (ACP) opens in October?

In the case of Lavalette's work, of course, all the questions we raised earlier about Martin Parr's work also come into play.

Is this work an exercise in personal style, done to fulfill a commission? Or does it show us something about this artist's growth as an artist? Do we stop with the play of light over surfaces, or is there depth to the images? Does it actually make a difference for the work that it was made in the American South?

Lavalette's images for this commission are beginning to come out, so you can reach your own conclusions, by going to CNN here. 

In addition, Lavalette is trying to do a book of this work, and he's enlisted Kickstarter to help him out. Go here for more details.

He has had the good fortune to get mentioned for this project in the London Daily Telegraph, here.

He's also featured with this work on TIME's LightBox  And on Kickstarter's Tumblr, here.

At the least, the High has given us a great deal to ponder -- about photography, about the South, and about the state of  our aesthetic self-regard, here, today, in what a friend told me yesterday we should refer to as the Postsouthern South.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Richard Misrach Photographs the American South

The High Museum in Atlanta is opening a show of photographs by California-based photographer Richard Misrach, as part of its Picturing the South series. The show is up from June 02 - October 07, 2012.

The High commissioned this work from Misrach in 1998, so its been a long time in coming.

I think with Misrach, you don't know which vision he will show up with.

He might bring the vision that delivers drop-dead gorgeous color landscapes or finds stunning compositions in the midst of a crowded seashore.

Or he might bring the vision that finds the end of the American middle class in the burnt-out suburbs of southern California, or perhaps some post-apocalyptic world in the dessicated carcasses of dead horses emerging from the desert.

The South provides plenty of evidence for many visions.

A colleague of mine was once involved in staging a public debate on the topic Resolved: The South is a World-Class Region. He told me later that the alternative topic proposed to his committee was Resolved: The South is a Third World Country. 

Misrach chose the latter way of viewing the South in this portfolio, which the High is exhibiting under the title Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley

His subject is the stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, home to a whole bunch of petrochemical industrial sites that seem to function without supervision and in total disregard for the environment.

The High -- commendably -- does not flinch from the subject of Misrach's work, calling it the "ecological degradation" of the section of the Mississippi River known affectionately residents of Louisiana as "Cancer Alley."

The High says, "Misrach’s work signals not just the environmental challenges facing the South but also the larger costs of our modern world at the dawn of the twenty first century."

The High is presenting twenty-one large scale images from Misrach's portfolio. If "large scale" here means work on Misrach's typical scale, these images will really be overwhelming in their impact.

This looks to be a stunning and disturbing show, with the scale of the images heightening the tension between the beauty and the ugliness of their subject matter. 

I'm sometimes skeptical of the High's Picturing the South series, with its tendency to bring in hired guns for the sake of bringing in hired guns.

This show, however,  makes sense to me as a powerful constellation of technique and unflinching vision. Sometimes, we need other people to show us what is going on around here.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Martin Parr Looks at the American South

The folks at the  High Museum of Art in Atlanta have commissioned British photographer Martin Parr to make a portfolio of work in the American South as part of their ongoing series of commissions to bring distinguished contemporary photographers to the South to make work for the High's photography collections.

One can see the kind of work Parr is doing thanks to CNN, which has posted a portfolio of Parr's work in Atlanta, called Up and Down Peachtree, viewable here. 

The premises of this kind of undertaking are very complicated, I think. One runs the risk of getting work that is in the style of the distinguished photographer, for which the subject matter is mostly the occasion to make a piece of work in that particular style.

In other words, the Southern setting -- which is important to us because its home -- is here yet another occasion -- more or less indifferent to the photographer -- for the performance of a style of seeing, a completion of an assignment, a delivery of a product.

If you go to Martin Parr's website, you will see that he does this sort of thing a lot.

He's good at it. And you might want to look at his images made on other assignments and ask yourself if he sets out with a shot list of certain compositions that he is looking for -- images to check off -- that help him perform his style and also let him know when he is done with this assignment and can move on to the next.

There might be, for example, the image of people holding leaves, that one can make in Port Eliot, in Cornwall, and also on Peachtree Street in Atlanta.

Parr actually thinks about this -- you can see his discussion of photographic cliches on his blog, here

One might like to think that the place of working has consequences for the photographer doing the work, and that that aspect of a photographic project might be important to the quality of the outcome of the project.

In other words, the best work in this vein might be a product of an interaction between place, photographer, and performance of the craft, so that there would be tangible consequences visible in the work of the place of its creation, consequences deeper than the play of light over surface of the objects that are photographed.

As a working hypothesis, one might argue that the best work of this kind is made when the photographer is changed in the process of working in a place, and that change is visible in some way in the work itself.

Do we see any of that in Parr's work? Or did he drop out of the sky onto Peachtree Street, do his Parr-thing for a while, and then head off to the next assignment? 

There is also the question of why the High invests money in this kind of project. Is it for the insights the work may bring to our understanding of the American South, or is it about the creation of a certain kind of opportunity to create a show with big names and local interest?

Your thoughts are welcomed.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Susan Harbage Page -- NC Arts Council Fellowship Awards Exhibition


Susan Harbage Page, truly one of the South's most distinguished photographers, is having a show of her work to celebrate her being named in 2010 one of the recipients of the NC Arts Council's Artist Fellowship Award. 

This show, which includes work by other recipients of the NC Arts Council Fellowship Award in 2010, is up at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts on the campus of Appalachian State University, at 423 West King St., in Boone, NC. 

Susan is on the faculty of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. In a long and distinguished career as a photographer, she has found a variety of ways to use her art not only to observe Southern culture but also to engage with its persistent issues. 

Page's Postcards from Home portfolio, for example, represents a subtle engagement with and interruption of the iconography of the Klan as a Southern institution and symbol of the South's persistent racism. Laurel Fredrickson has a thoughtful discussion of thhs portfolio here.

More recently, Page has been engaging with the phenomenon of border crossing, in her portfolio The US/Mexico Border Project. 

Some of her work from this portfolio will be part of a show called Zone of Contention: The U.S./Mexico Border at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, NC, opening June 16, 2012, and up through September 2nd of this year. 

Susan deserves all the honor and praise and recognition she is getting. These are must-see shows if you are nearby.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

1:1000 for April -- Alternative Communities

The focus of work on offer at the 1:1000 ezine for April is on alternative communities in the South.

San Francisco-based photographer Lucas Foglia says his portfolio A Natural Order resulted from his desire to "see what a completely self-sufficient way of living might look like."

So Foglia sought out -- in "the southeastern United States," of course -- "people who left cities and suburbs to live off the grid. Motivated by environmental concerns, religious beliefs, or predictions of economic collapse, they build their homes from local materials, obtain their water from nearby springs, and hunt, gather, or grow their own food."

Foglia is working here in the documentary tradition, bringing us images of what it looks like for folks to "live off the grid," and what the people look like who choose to live this way.

Lots of these folks look like ordinary residents of the small-town and rural South. What seems to be essential here is their decision -- in the tradition of Thoreau -- to seek self-sufficiency as a deliberate alternative to the interconnected and wired-up lives most of us live.

So the relationship, or the tension/attraction/rejection dynamic at work, between the world embraced and the world left behind is occasionally revealed in Foglia's work, as in the image above, Cora in a Realtree Camouflage Dress, Tennessee.

Those of us who lived through the commune movement of the 1960's will find some familiar scenes in this work -- good to see that old patterns have a way of resurfacing with different vocabularies for making sense of alternative patterns of behavior.

The way people dress in some of these images leads me to wonder, however,  why, when one wants to live self-sufficiently, the women wind up dressing like 19th century European peasants and the men seem to spend lots of time naked.

1:1000's other photographer featured this month is Portland-based photographer Aaron Cohen, who in his portfolio of images The Communitarians also takes a documentary approach to his subject, in this case Twin Oaks, a specific Southern alternative community.

Founded in 1967 in rural Virginia, the Twin Oaks Community is a living connection between the communitarian movement of the 1960's and the kinds of folks one meets in the work of Foglia.

Cohen reports that Twin Oaks still has over 100 members living and working together to maintain a society based on those old '60's values of cooperation, resource sharing, nonviolence, and equality.

Cohen says these folks are dedicated "to a more ecologically sustainable way of life." He reports that "those who live at Twin Oaks grow most of their own food organically, consume very few outside goods, generate very little consumer waste, and live lightly on the land."

And they don't wear anachronistic clothing (see image above).

Good to be in touch with Southerners who are continuing the Southern tradition of living unconventional lifestyles.

We must be grateful to the folks at 1:1000 for bringing them, and their photographers, to our attention.