Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gordon Parks on Segregated America

The revered American photographer Gordon Parks, who died in 2006, had a long and distinguished career as a photographer who transcended many barriers to the full inclusion of people of color in America, including his work as a photographer for Vogue and Life.

Parks' lesser-known images have caught the attention of curators at several museums which, in their shows of Parks' work, have drawn on images made during Parks' time as a staff photographer for Life Magazine, many of which have not previously been exhibited or published. 

These shows document, in powerful images, the look and feel, as well as the cost, of segregated America.  They also remind us powerfully that the legacy (and continuing cost) of racism in America is a national, not simply a Southern, issue.

The High Museum in Atlanta has up now a show of Parks' work, called Gordon Parks: Segregation Story (see image above), drawing on a portfolio of work Parks created for a 1950s Life magazine article on the daily life and struggles of a multigenerational family living in segregated Alabama.

The work in this show (see image above) takes me back to the South I grew up in, and powerfully reconnects me to that sense of shame and disgust I remember feeling when I got old enough to understand the world my ancestors had made. 

Parks' show is up at the High through June 7th, 2015.

The show at the Studio Museum in Harlem, up from Nov 11, 2012 - Jun 30, 2013, with the title A Harlem Family featured about thirty black and white photographs (see image above) of the Fontenelle family, whose lives Parks documented as part of a 1968 Life magazine photo essay. 

The Studio Museum called the work, appropriately, "a searing portrait of poverty in the United States."

 Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will open a show of Parks' work, made in his home town in Kansas, entitled Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott, on January 17th, up through September 15th, 2015. 

Parks made this body of work in 1950, returning to his hometown in Kansas to make a series of photographs he intended to accompany an article in Life Magazine but was never actually published.  

Parks, according to the folks at the MFA, "used this assignment to revisit early memories of his birthplace, many involving serious racial discrimination, and to reconnect with childhood friends, all of whom had attended the same all-black grade school as Parks."

As the MFA points out, this work -- like the work on offer at the Studio Museum and the High Museum -- "represents a rarely seen view of everyday lives of African American citizens, years before the Civil Rights movement began in earnest."

Parks' work reminds us powerfully of the ongoing agendas of Southern history and culture, and the central role that photography has had, and continues to play, in the ways we address those agendas. 

You can see more of Parks' work by going to the websites of his Foundation, here, and his Museum, here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

S[x]SE for Winter 2015 -- the Love and War Issue

The latest issue (Volume X, Issue 1) of South by South East (S[x]SE) Photography Magazine is now out for winter 2015, and it has all the fine photography and engaging features we have come to expect from S[x]SE.

Editor Nancy McCrary says,  if you are interested in photography from "Miami to Washington, Dallas to Savannah," she's "got you covered." 

S[x]SE, McCrary says, brings us everything about photography in the Southeast, from "gallery shows to museum exhibitions, book reviews, photo festivals, the best of the blogs written about Southern photography, interviews with gallery directors, photographers, museum curators and collectors of the South, along with articles and galleries of the featured artists."

This issue of S[x]SE is about Love and War, and features (in the Love section) the work of Laura Noel (see image at top, above), Heather Perera (see image directly above), and Alex Leme  (see image directly below).  

The War section features work by distinguished Southern photographer Burk Uzzle (see image below), Jeremy Lock (see image below Uzzle's), and Paul Hagedorn (see image below Lock's).

The issue also includes interviews by Jerry Atnip with Elisabeth Biondi of Master Photography Retreat and Jennifer King of Jennifer King Workshops, and by Judy Sherrod with photography collectors Connie and Jerry Rosenthal. 

And you can have access to all this fine -- and award-winning -- work for a very reasonable fee, a very reasonable fee indeed.

To subscribe, to do the right thing, go here.

Don't put it off any longer. We Southern photographers need to support our basic institutions.

You know you should subscribe. You know it, you really do.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Was Robert Rauschenberg a Southern Photographer?

Duke University's Nasher Museum of Art has up through this weekend a retrospective show of work by the distinguished American artist Robert Rauschenberg.

One of the things I learned from this show is about Rauschenberg's long career as a photographer, a career grounded in his time as a student at Black Mountain College, in Black Mountain, NC, just east of Asheville.

The catalogue for this show -- which the Nasher happily includes in full on its website, go here -- includes a long and thorough essay entitled "Rauschenberg’s Photography: Documenting and Abstracting the Authentic Experience," by Guest Curator Lauren Acampora, go here.

Acampora notes that the beginnings of Rauschenberg's career as an artist lie in the study of photography, which he began while a student of
photographer Hazel Larsen Archer at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1951. 

Larsen Archer took this photograph (see above) of Rauschenberg while he was her student at Black Mountain College. Interestingly, the College has an extensive website devoted to her work at Black Mountain, here. 

While at Black Mountain, Rauschenberg was also exposed to the work of visiting professors Harry Callahan, Arthur Siegel, and Aaron Siskind. 

Rauschenberg continued to practice photography for a number of years. In fact, his first major recognition as an artist came in January of 1952, when Edward Steichen purchased two of Rauschenberg’s photographs for the Museum of Modern Art in New York: Untitled (Interior of an Old Carriage) (1949) and Untitled (Cy on Bench) (1951).

In the mid-1950's, Rauschenberg gave up photography to concentrate on his painting, only to return to it a few years later, as he found ways to incorporate his photographs into large mixed media compositions such as the one below, Untitled (1984).

As Acampora notes, Rauschenberg believed he never gave up being a photographer, both through incorporating photographic images into his paintings and multi-media works and through photography alone.

His engagement with photography finally resulted in his mounting, in 1981, a major show of over a hundred of his photographs, entitled Rauschenberg Photographe, in an exhibition organized by curator Alain Sayag at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Acampora demonstrates Rauschenberg's engagement with photography throughout his career, from its beginning to the end, in multi-medial works like the one above, from the late 1990's. 

She also gives a detailed account of the techniques Rauschenberg used to incorporate his photographs into his paintings and suggests that using photographs enabled Rauschenberg to introduce into his works an extended consideration of time, of the relationship between the ephemerality of the moment documented in the photograph and the traditional view that art transcends the temporal.

There is a lot more very thoughtful discussion in Acampora's essay of Rauschenberg's use of photography in his work, so much that I can't begin to cover it all here. 

I strongly recommend Acampora's essay to you, and encourage you to see the show at the Nasher, if you are able, before it closes on tJanuary 11th. 

I can say that from the perspective of Rauschenberg's practice as a photographer, his work looks even more ground-breaking and radically experimental than it does when we think of it as a development in the history of painting. 

Thinking of Rauschenberg chiefly as a painter obscures his radicalism as a photographer, and as a Southern one, at that.

Southern Photographers in the News -- UPDATED, January, 2015

Here we are, in 2015, and here are some of the things that happened in the world of Southern fine art photography while we were away. 

1. The Bitter Southerner published a great story called "Pictures of Us," about the Do Good Fund and its collection of Southern photography, go here.\

2. Lenscratch has a feature story by Aline Smithson on Jeff Rich and his Watershed portfolio, here. 

3. Sumner, MS-based photographer Maude Clay (see image above) was named one of "50 People Who Are Changing the South in 2015" by Southern Living magazine, go here.

4. Honorary Southern Photographer Eugene Richards' book Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down was named one of the outstanding photograph books of 2014 by the editors at Photo District News, go here.

5. Atlanta-based superwoman Jennifer Schwartz had her book Crusade for Your Art chosen by Elizabeth Avedon as one of the Best Photography Books of 2014, go here. 

Schwartz also curated an exhibition of Portrait Photography, called Faces of Fraction, for Fraction Magazine, go here.

Good to see the work of a number of Southern photographers among Schwartz' selections, including images by Noelle McCleaf, Susan Worsham (see image above), and Honorary Southern Photographer Myra Green.

6. California-based but North Carolina born photographer McNair Evans' book Confessions for a Son was the subject of a feature story in Photo District News, go here.

7. Nashville-based arts writer Mary Addison Hackett attended PhotoNOLA in New Orleans back in December and wrote about her visit on the website of the Nashville Scene blog, here. 

Hackett was, as she says, "drawn to works using the South as a backdrop,"  and was especially taken by the work of Tamara Reynolds, Nic Persinger, Rebecca Drolen, Jeanine Michna-Bales, and Eliott Dudik. 

8. You still have time to see work by Mississippi-based photographers Don Norris (see image above),  Marcus Frazier, and Milly West in a show of work by Mississippi artists at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, MS, up now through January 25th, 2015. 

9. Atlanta's High Museum of Art is opening a show of work by the distinguished American photographer Helen Levitt, called Helen Levitt: In the Street. The show opens January 10th, and is up through May 31st, 2015. 

Levitt is mostly associated with the streets of New York City, but, we learn from the High, she also photographed extensively in Savannah, GA, and some of that work will be in the show at the High.

10. Kat Kiernan(see image above) , formerly a gallery owner in Lexington, VA but now working in NYC at the Louis Meisel Gallery, has a solo show of her own work opening at the Sierra Arts Foundation Gallery in Reno, NV.  

The show features work from Kiernan's Between Earth and Water portfolio, opening January 10th and up through February 6th, 2015.

Kiernan reports on her year after moving to NYC and on her success with the magazine Don't Take Pictures, here.

11. And while we are on the subject of galleries, the new year also brought sad news that the Wiljax Gallery for Southern Photography in Cleveland, MS, closed its doors for good in Mid-December. 

The Wiljax Gallery in Cleveland had been open for 16 years, and its true that Things Run Their Course, and that All Good Things Must Come to an End, and that Bills Need to be Paid, and that People Move On.

But, still, one dreams of a time when places like Cleveland, MS, could support and sustain a place like Wiljax for the long as well as the short term.

Photography on the Internet is a Fine Thing, and we are richer for it, but there is no substitute for the look and feel and experience of a print. 

A photograph on one's computer screen lacks the dimensionality of a print.  A print has depth and substance and texture. It represents the fulness of a photograph's reality.

You get that in a gallery. 

And a gallery is a cultural institution, a place of gathering, and inspiration, and community formation. 

Maybe in a place like Atlanta photography galleries can come and go and the impact is not dramatic.

But in the smaller cities, when a gallery folds up, there is a tear in the cultural fabric that is hard to repair.

We had a photography gallery here in Raleigh for several years, and it nourished the local community of photographers as well as providing an outlet for our work. It closed, and has not been replaced. 

We are the poorer for that.

One hopes that places like Cleveland, or for that matter, any of the towns and smaller cities in the South, can be their own places, alongside the Atlantas and the Nashvilles, and the Charlottes, as incubators for folk's energy and creativity and celebration of the arts.

That time is not yet. But we can still dream. 


Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas at Graceland -- December 2014

In the words of Paul Simon, "I have reason to believe we all shall be received in Graceland."

Best wishes for a joyous Christmas and the holiday season to Southern photographers and Southern photography fans everywhere. 

The Southern Photographer will now take a short break from chronicling Fine Art Photography in the American South while your humble blogger attends to other professional and personal responsibilities. 

Thank you for your attention, and especially your kind words of support for this blog during the past year.

We look forward to resuming our chronicle early in 2015. 

In the meanwhile, remember that Christmas is a season, not just a day, and the season of Christmas is 12 days long. 

So its Christmas from December 25th all the way through until Twelfth Night, January 5th, 2015. 

We'll be back by then. 

In the meantime, we wish you all the joy that the holiday season can bring, and a Happy New Year, too. 

Eliot Dudik, Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman, Susan Kae Grant Named Best of Show at PhotoNOLA Portfolio Review

Each year, the reviewers at the PhotoNOLA Portfolio Reviews select the three strongest bodies of work they have seen among the seventy portfolios they've reviewed. 

This year, the winners include the following:
1st place went to Eliot Dudik (see image above).

2nd place went to the team of Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman (see image above).

3rd place went to Susan Kae Grant  (see image above).

Dudik, who is having a great 2014 in photography, earned the PhotoNOLA Review Prize, which includes a solo exhibition at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery during next years' PhotoNOLA, a cash award of $1000, and a marketing consultation with Mary Virginia Swanson. 

2nd Place winners, Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman, and 3rd Place winner, Susan Kae Grant, earned the opportunity to have galleries of their work displayed on the PhotoNOLA website. 

In addition, all will be highlighted in a LensCulture feature article.

For the full list of photographers juried into the PhotoNOLA 2014 portfolio review, go here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jeff Rich takes in the Work at PhotoNOLA

Jeff Rich made it to New Orleans last week for PhotoNOLA, and filed a report on some of the highlights on his Eyes on the South blog for the Oxford American, here.

Rich especially singles out work by Baton Rouge-based photographer Jeremiah Ariaz (see image above), now on display at the Cole Pratt Gallery.

Rich also singles out tintypes by Kevin Kline and Bruce Schultz (see image above, which were on view for one day at a pop-up show at 809 Piety Street,  in New Orleans. For more information on this work, go here. 

Also on Rich's list is an installation at the Front Gallery featuring work by Lee Deigaard (see image above) from his "Crusher Run: exploring landscape a stone's throw from the interstate" portfolio.   

Finally, Rich was taken with the display of photo books curated by Tammy Mercure at the Press Street Gallery, and including books by a whole slew of folks (full list here), of whom Rich singles out Aaron Turner, David McCarty, Shawn Kelly, Tamara Reynolds, and Anne Conway Jennings for special notice.

Thanks to Jeff for this fine report, and for giving us stay-at-homes a taste of the riches of PhotoNOLA for 2014. 

David Simonton at the Framers Corner in Carrboro

Master North Carolina photographer David Simonton is having a show of his work at the Framers Corner, at 210 West Main St, Carrboro, NC, now up through December 31st, 2014. 

Simonton is a true master at finding the compelling image in the midst of the small town South. 

North Carolina is a state of small towns, and Simonton has found the place, the light, and the moment in dozens and dozens of them. 

Who knew, until Simonton taught us, that that bird house was right there, in just the right place, to turn a the back of a ramshackled cinder block building into a place of grace and beauty?

Or that Simonton would find that tree just there, in front of that truck, in that place, in that light, and with that sign on it at just that angle, to lead us in to contemplate the possibility of wonder in the midst of the truly mundane? 

Simonton teaches us to see, and see anew, everywhere he goes, which is a good reason to get over to Carrboro and check out his work. 

Tamara Reynolds in The Bitter Southerner

Beautiful work by Tamara Reynolds in the current edition of The Bitter Southerner, illustrating a story about Doug Seegers who is unknown in Nashville but a famous musician in Sweden.

Seegers is described as a busker whose "music has this Marvin Gaye-meets-Hank Williams-meets-Jimmy Webb-meets-Ray Charles thing happening."

The story is about the cold November rain, in Southern streets, down and out, and its about redemption, too.

Thanks to Reynolds for bringing us the look of that street in the rain, and the face and hands of Doug Seegers. And to the Bitter Southerner for bringing us Reynolds work, and Max Blau's work, and the story and the sound of Seegers and his work.

Bitter or not, that's the South.  As my father used to say, "Now, don't that beat all." 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Betty Press is Having a Splendid 2014 -- and It's Not Over Yet!

Hattiesburg, MS-based photographer Betty Press is having an outstanding 2014.

Press is one of eight Southern photographers selected by juror Richard McCabe, Curator of Photography at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, for inclusion in this year's edition of the annual Atlanta Photography Group's Portfolio Show, now up at the APG Galleries through February 1st, 2015.

Press has also recently been the featured photographer on the Lenscratch blog, here, also featured twice on the Creek Royalty blog, here and here, and in the Eyes on the South, here.

She has had work in the SlowExposures show, the Ain't Bad Magazine show at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, GA, the Cedars Juried Show in Jackson, MS, and the Plastic Camera show in San Francisco.

Press brings to her work in Mississippi the experience of having lived and photographed in Africa for many years, resulting in a book published in 2011 entitled I Am Because We Are.

So Press went from photographing in Africa to photographing in the Mississippi Delta, one of the major centers for the people and culture of the African diaspora. 

Press says she never expected to be living and working in Mississippi, but that she brings "a singular perspective to portraying the Southern experience, black and white, which is so intertwined, and keeps the South a unique region in our country."

After several years of living in Mississippi but not feeling fully at home there, Press says she set out "to deal with the uneasiness by exploring the state, still largely rural and agricultural, through a series of road trips."

Her work "reveals a slightly surreal, hidden narrative of Mississippi’s landscape and the indomitable spirit of the people—sometimes fanciful, humorous, quirky, mysterious, and at times disturbing."

I had the great good fortune to meet Press at the ACP Portfolio Review this past October.

Her work stood out as exceptionally well-seen and well-recorded, especially through her use of toy and plastic cameras, whose distortions, vignetting, and irregularities of focus help Press to engage our attention, drawing us in to recognize and appreciate the details of lives we take for granted or find too ordinary to appreciate.

Press does fine work. Its good to see her get the kinds of recognition she so richly deserves.

For the record, the list of those in the Portfolio Show in Atlanta also includes Dennis Church, whom we devoted a blog entry to when his work appeared in Eyes on the South, as well as Justin Andre Cordova, Teri Darnell, Laura Noel, Lissette Schaeffler, Jerry Siegel, and Laine Wyatt

Susan Harbage Page and Richard Misrach Photograph the Border

                                                                                                          (Image by SHP)

Chapel Hill-based photographer Susan Harbage Page has been photographing along the border between the USA and Mexico since 2007, producing award-winning work that attends to signs of the transition in personal identity from one culture and nation to another by documenting the personal things left behind as people make that transition. 

                                                                                                          (Image by SHP)

Page photographs the objects where she finds them, then removes the objects from that setting and brings them to our attention by caring for them and exhibiting them as though they were objects of value in a museum collection rather than an item of ephemera cast aside as need dictated to the original owner. 

                                                                                                          (Image by SHP)

Page has exhibited this work widely over the past several years, in gallery and museum settings as well as in Installations in public spaces, contributing to our understanding of the experience of transition gone through by people whose emigration to the American South is transforming our culture. 

                                                                                                          (Image by SHP)

Page's work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and has been recognized by awards and grants to support her continued efforts to bring attention to the scandal of America's immigration policy and to the people who give up their identities and assume new ones in their efforts to find a safe and secure place to do their work and live their lives with dignity. 

                                                                                                     (Image by RM)

Now, it turns out, the distinguished American photographer Richard Misrach (see image above) has recently produced a body of work in which he photographs along the border between the USA and Mexico, attending to signs of the transition in personal identity from one culture and nation to another by documenting the personal things left behind as people make that transition. 

                                                                                                                (Image by RM)

  Misrach photographs the objects where he finds them, then removes the objects from that setting and brings them to our attention by caring for them and turning at least some of them over to a musician named Guillermo Galindo, who turns these items into musical instruments. 

                                                                                                             (Image by RM)

Misrach them photographs them again as objects that engage us as objects of value in a museum collection rather than an item of ephemera cast aside as need dictated to the original owner.  

You can read more about Misrach's work here, from the California Sunday Magazine, and here, from a story from National Public Radio, where we learn that Misrach's work will be on display at the San Jose Museum of Art in the spring of 2016.

                                                                                                           (Image by SHP)

The confluence of these two projects raises for us as photographers and artists a number of questions, it seems to me. 

I've deliberately copied my language in this account of two artists' work to highlight the similarities between them in subject matter, concept, and execution, a similarity that extends to specific images, such as Page's image, above, of tires linked together and covered with dust and Misrach's image, below, of tires linked together and covered with dust.

                                                                                                            (Image by RM)

Or, of Page's image of a fence separating the USA from Mexico, below, or Misrach's image of a fence separating the USA from Mexico, below Page's image.

 Not to mention their photographs of combs abandoned at the border, see above.

                                                                                                      (Image by SHP)

In my regular line of work, which is about studying the history and interpretation of literature and culture, we look for traces of artistic development, noticing signs of influence and response among writers and artists as careers in the arts unfold. 

                                                                                                                 (Image by RM)

In my field, we recognize borrowing and indebtedness as well as the extent of transformation as one artist draws on the work of another artist in a variety of ways. 
In my field, we also practice a discipline which recognizes that while there are an endless array of possible ways of approaching and interpreting the subject of our study, we always build on the work of others, and always acknowledge our sources, models, and other kinds of indebtedness to those who have preceded us in our common pursuit of understanding, enabling and inspiring our own endeavors. 

I'm wondering to what extent issues like these are relevant to the relationship between living artists today working in a field in which originality is highly valued, but in which appropriation of another artist's work can in itself be regarded as an expression of creativity. 

So, our question for the day -- what does Richard Misrach owe Susan Harbage Page? 

Royalties, perhaps, for replicating her ideas, methods of working, and types and kinds of images? Or at least an acknowledgement of his indebtedness to her? 

Does their common agenda make their work complimentary or does it make Misrach's work derivative? 

Does Misrach's work constitute a case of plagiarism? Or does our understanding of artistic creativity privilege the individual vision so much that such considerations are irrelevant? 

Does it matter that Misrach, with a much higher profile in the world of photo culture, gets national media attention for work that clearly replicates Page's work, in spite of Page's award-winning recognition for her work in North Carolina and the Southeast? 

Questions to ponder -- I hope to provoke some conversation. Feel free to join in.

Page makes a self-portrait each year she works on the border, showing her against the Fence in silent protest of America's immigration policy. 

Here is this year's photograph.

                                                                                                          (Image by SHP)

Seems to me,  this year, Page has even more to protest about than she's had in previous years. And this time, its personal.