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.