Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sally Mann in the New York Times -- April 2015

Honored Southern photographer Sally Mann has had a long and distinguished career as a fine art photographer. 

Mann has exhibited and published widely, and has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Time Magazine named Mann "America's Best Photographer" in 2001. 

Mann has now written an autobiography called appropriately Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, available from May 12th, 2015, from Little, Brown. 

In the run-up to its release, the New York Times has published an excerpt from Mann's memoir in the NY Times Magazine for April 4th, 2015 with the title "The Cost of Sally Mann’s Exposure: What an artist captures, what a mother knows and what the public sees can be dangerously different things." 

In this essay, Mann discusses the complex reactions she evoked by the publication of her third book of photographs, Immediate Family, in 1992. 

Mann has photographed a wide range of subjects during her career, but none of her work has drawn the same degree of attention as this body of work. 

The subject of Mann's photographs in this portfolio were Mann's own children, photographed while they were young, engaged in typical children's activities, often in the nude.

Mann writes of her choice of subject matter in this portfolio:

"Out of a conviction that my lens should remain open to the full scope of their childhood, and with the willing, creative participation of everyone involved, I photographed their triumphs, confusion, harmony and isolation, as well as the hardships that tend to befall children — bruises, vomit, bloody noses, wet beds — all of it."

The reaction to Mann's work was strong, complex, and frequently hostile. Mann, unprepared for it, describes it in her essay as feeling "as though my soul had been exposed to critics who took pleasure in poking it with a stick."

Mann's work gained wide exposure because of an article, also in the New York Times Magazine, entitled "The Disturbing Photography of Sally Mann," by Richard B. Woodward

Mann remembers, "In my arrogance and certitude that everyone must see the work as I did, I left myself wide open to journalism’s greatest hazard: quotations lacking context or the sense of irony or self-­deprecating humor with which they were delivered."

Mann's work -- and the reaction to it -- reminds us that our response to art is our response, dependent to some extent on the context we bring to the work when we look at it, but ultimately deriving from within ourselves and ultimately revealing more about ourselves than it does about the work which evokes that response from within us.

Or, as KJ Dell'Antonia, in an essay on Mann's photography in the NY Times parenting blog, puts it:

"The emotion we draw from an image we know nothing about fools us into thinking we want to know more. 

"Instead of looking inside for that knowledge, as an artist hopes we will, we prefer to take the easier route and dig for less metaphorical truths. 

"Or maybe, and this is the risk, this is the fear, and supposedly no small part of the reaction the pictures provoke, maybe whatever is inside some few of us that the images touch is so ugly and unknowable that we want to destroy or possess the reality, or the illusion, behind their creation."

Such insights are good to have with us when we see work that we find challenging, disturbing, or upsetting. 

As part of the Times' coverage of Mann's work, the NY Times photographer LESLYE DAVIS (see image above) talks about the experience of photographing Mann in an essay entitled "A Lesson from Sally Mann: "Just Take the Picture," here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jeff Rich -- Eyes on the South


We all owe Jeff Rich a deep debt of gratitude for his ongoing Eyes on the South (EOTS) series of portfolios on the Oxford American website

Rich has a fine eye, an inquiring mind, and an adventurous spirit. He also has the commitment to keep bringing us new entries in his ongoing survey of the varieties and wonders of Southern photography.

Eyes on the South is a weekly post. 

How Rich keeps up his own work (see image above) AND fulfills his teaching duties at the University of Iowa AND also keeps meeting his commitment to having up a new EOTS entry every week is beyond me. 

I for one am deeply grateful.

You can keep up with this feature of the Oxford American by going here:

Rich says he finds most of the artists for EOTS by looking regularly at a bunch of different sources like Instagram and tumblr. 

But he's always open to looking at new work. Photographers who would like to submit work for Rich to consider for EOTS are invited to contact him at this email address:

Just to keep up, photographers featured on Eyes on the South since we last checked include the following:

Texas-based photographer Rachel Cox (see image above) and Hattiesburg, MS-based photographer Thomas Pearson (see image below).

Congratulations to these folks, and especially to Jeff Rich, who has brought their work, and the work of so many other fine Southern photographers to our attention.

More News of Southern Photographers -- Late Spring 2014

1. Chapel Hill, NC - based photographer Lori Vrba (see image above) is the subject of a feature interview by Aline Smithson in the online photography magazine Lenscratch, here.  

The interview comes on the occasion of the publication of Vrba's first monograph, The Moth Wing Diaries, from Hillsborough, NC's  Daylight Books.

2. The work of New Hampshire-based photographer Margo Cooper (see image above) documenting the world of blues people in the Mississippi Delta has been featured in the New York Times LENS blog, here.

3. Louisiana-based photographer Debbie Fleming Caffrey (see image above) will have a major show of her work opening at the Octavia Gallery in New Orleans on April 11th and up through May 23rd, 2015. 

For more on this show, go here. For an interview with Caffrey in photo-eye, go here. 

4. Richmond, VA-based photographer Susan Worsham (see image above) has work in the inaugural issue of the magazine The Ones We Love, here.

5.  Greenville, NC-based photographer Daniel Kariko (see image above) has been featured by Aline Smithson in the on-line magazine Lenscratch, here. 

6. Biloxi Bay, MS-based photographer Susan Guice (see image above) has also been featured by Aline Smithson in Lenscratch, here.

7. Charlotte, NC's Light Factory has been reborn as a center for photography.  Their Annuale photography competition has just concluded, with an exhibition opening on April 24th, 2015. 

Among this year's winners are Raleigh, NC-based photographer Diana Bloomfield (see image above),  Charlotte, NC-based photographer Micah Cash, Atlanta, GA-based photographer Beth Lilly (see image below), and Houston, TX-based photographer Jeremy Underwood

8. Houston-based photographer Maxine Helfman (see image below) has photographs featured in the current issue of Kat Kiernan's magazine Don't Take Pictures, here.

9. South Texas-based photographer Armando Alvarez (See image below) has a story A Beautiful Dark about his work on the Oxford American website, here.

10. Honorary Southern Photographer Magdalena Sole (see image below) has work featured on the Ain't Bad Magazine's website, here.

Enough for now, but back soon, with more news.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rebekah Jacob and the Southern Camera Project

Rebekah Jacob, who owns and runs the splendid Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston, SC, has announced a new initiative to bring "cutting-edge and collectible" photographs by "both seasoned and emerging artists in the Southern region" to the attention of collectors. 

 Jacob is calling this initiative the Southern Camera Project, or SCP, for short.

To get it started, she has created, on her Gallery's website, an online set of galleries for photographers who work, in Jacob's words, "East of the Mississippi River and South of the Mason Dixon Line."  

Display and sales of work will all be handled online. Jacob has organized a process of submission and review for photographers' work. 

She has also committed her time and entrepreneurial talents to promoting the work both through the SCP site and through social media.   

Work from a number of photographers is already on view on the SCP site, and the portal is open for additional submissions. Jacob says that the site will eventually display the work of up to 50 photographers. 

This sounds like an exciting opportunity for photographers not from the Charleston area to gain access to this area's culturally vibrant art scene, as well as to all the folks who have come to appreciate Jacob's discerning eye and the overall quality of her gallery.

Many, many thanks to Rebekah Jacob for this exciting new initiative!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Southern Photographers in the News -- Early Spring 2015

Items of Interest since we last checked in:

1. Atlanta-based photographer Fernando Decillis has powerful photographs in this week's Bitter Southerner of last weekend's observance of the 50th anniversary of the March to Selma. 

I am in awe of the splendid work the folks at the Bitter Southerner are doing. The consistently high quality of the stories, and the photographs, is truly breathtaking. 

2. Laurinburg, NC native (but San Francisco-based) photographer McNair Evans (see image above) is one of Photo District News' 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch for 2015.  

3.  Florida-born (but Chicago-based) photographer Clarissa Bonet (see image above) is also one of Photo District News' 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch for 2015.  

4. Memphis, TN-born (but Quincy, MA-based) photographer Molly Lamb is also one of Photo District News' 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch for 2015. 

5. Cedar Key, FL photographer Christian Harkness has images from his Water Women portfolio in the current issue of the ezine Liner Magazine, here.

6. New Orleans-based photographer Deborah Luster has been named the Robert Gardner Fellow in Photography at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. 

7. Little Elm, Texas-based photographer Rachael Banks has images from her portfolio Between Home and Here featured in Issue 72 of Fraction Magazine, here.

8. Pittsburg-based photographer Aaron Blum has work from his portfolio A Guide to Folk Taxonomy featured in Issue 71 of Fraction Magazine, here.

Blum is Not From Around Here, and he works in West Virginia, the state created specifically so folks could avoid the central event of Southern history.

But his attention in West Virginia is on Appalachia, a lot of which is in the South, and Roger May has convinced me that West Virginia is Southern enough, hence my inclusion of Blum's work.

9. The splendid Aline Smithson describes her experiences at the 2014 edition of PhotoNOLA in Lenscratch, here.

10. Smithson has also profiled some Southern photographers whose work she saw and liked at PhotoNOLA 2014, including Jeff RichScott Dalton, Corey George, and Maxine Helfman (see image above).

11. And speaking of Jeff Rich, his latest addition to the canon of photographers who have their Eyes on the South is Cole Cashwell (see image above), who offers tintypes from his Peripheral Subsistence portfolio, here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

South by Southeast -- S[x]SE -- for Early Spring 2015

The latest issue (Volume X, Issue 2) of South by South East (S[x]SE) Photography Magazine is now out for early spring 2015, and it has all the fine photography and engaging features we have come to expect from S[x]SE.

Editor Nancy McCrary says March means spring, so this issue is devoted to images we need to make the transition from a long, hard winter to the wonders of springtime Down South. 

McCrary brings us photography by Donna Rosser, Eric Whitaker,  Marilyn Suriani,  Peter Leafman,  Melissa Levesque, (see image below),  Diane Kirkland (see image above),
Blake Pierson, and Frank Fuerst.

There is also an extended essay by Hillsborough, NC -based photographers Margo Taussig Pinkerton and Arnie Zann, of Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures, about releasing your inner creativity. 

The issue also includes interviews by Jerry Atnip with portrait photographer Tina Barney and by  Dennis Graves with Mario Algaze.

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.

Eudora Welty on the Segregated South

The distinguished Southern writer Eudora Welty (1909 - 2001) also produced a significant body of work as a photographer for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930's. 


The Hunter Museum in Chattanooga, TN is opening a show of this work on March 20th, entitled Eudora Welty and the Segregated South, up through July 12th, 2015. 

Welty made this work, chiefly in Mississippi, in the early 1930's. She would say, later in life, that her work as a WPA photographer shaped the style of narration as well as the subject matter of her fiction. 

To my eye, Welty's images give us a richer and more nuanced view of the Depression-era South than than we get from the work of better-known WPA photographers like Walker Evans, Margaret Post Wolcott, and Dorothea Lange. 

That is to say, Welty shows us, unflinchingly, the realities of poverty, rural isolation, and racism in the segregated South, as do they. But, sometimes, one gets the sense that Evans and the others were so shocked by this dimension of Southern life that they had trouble seeing beyond it.

Welty, on the other hand, more familiar with the realities of life in the American South, recognized and documented in her work events that to some extent at least enriched the lives of those whose days were spent laboring in the fields.

All of this makes Welty's work essential to the history of Southern photography and makes this show at the Hunter Museum well worth a trip to Chattanooga.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Baldwin Lee Photographs in the American South

In the arts, people can be doing brilliant work right around the corner, but you might not know it unless you move in the same circles or have the right set of friends. 

Here is an example. I've learned about Knoxville, TN-based photographer Baldwin Lee, who has been photographing in the American South since the early 1980's, only  because he has been featured in a story by Mark Steinmetz in Time's Lightbox blog, here, for work from his Black Americans in the South portfolio. 

Lee's work is a revelation. 

Lee's career is grounded in early study with masters of American photography, including Minor White at MIT in the 1970's and then with Walker Evans at Yale, where Lee received his MFA in photography in 1975.

 He first began to photograph in the American South in the early 1980's while on a cross-country photo trip with former classmate at Yale Philip Lorca-DiCorcia. 

I'd love to know what photographs Lorca-DiCorcia took whole traveling in the South with Lee.

Lee then moved to Knoxville, TN to start a program in photography in the Art Department at the University of Tennessee, where he worked for 30 years, produced several major bodies of work, and wrote a manuscript  In Consideration of Photographing in the South, from which Steinmetz quotes in his piece for Time.  

 Along the way, Lee picked up two Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1984 and 1990) and a Fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation (1984).  

Lee's work has not gone entirely unnoticed. 

He has photographs in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery,  the  National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Museum of the City of New York.

Back in 2012, from February to August, Lee had a career retrospective show at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA, entitled The South in Black and White: Photographs by Baldwin Lee for which the Chrysler Museum did extensive background interviews with Lee, which you can find here, here, here, here, and here.

Steinmetz says that Lee's manuscript discusses his history as a student and practitioner of photography,  including his relationship with Walker Evans. Lee also recounts his experiences as an Asian-American photographer working chiefly with folks in the African-American community in the American South.

Steinmetz gets it right when he says that Lee's work "is the result of a keen talent and intellect working with discipline, passion, concern, and risk."

Lee is definitely a Southern Photographer We Honor. So glad  to have made his acquaintance. 

Steinmetz goes on: "Baldwin Lee’s inspired work from the mid-1980s deserves to be known by a larger audience. 

"The neglected world he describes has perhaps vanished by now, but it is my hope that his unique images along with his words will find a publisher and enrich our understanding of what photographers do."

I completely concur, and will try to do my part. This is fine work!

And while we are on the subject of the South's complex and tangled history, there is a story in the NY Times this week on the first Museum of Slavery in the USA,  to be found in a plantation in Louisiana -- a story not to be missed, and its here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Justin Cook, Made in Durham, in The Bitter Southerner

Durham is the City of Documentary Photography, what with the Center for Documentary Studies, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and Duke's MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program.

So it's no surprise that Justin Cook, a free-lance photographer based in Durham, has made folks in Durham the subject of a long-running project to document the uneven impact of the revival of Southern cities on their citizens.

Cook's project, called Made in Durham, is currently featured in The Bitter Southerner ezine, a publication fast becoming the go-to place for compelling stories about the complexities and paradoxes of Southern culture. 

Cook documents how Durham is successfully transforming itself from a working class city with an economy based on tobacco into a city with an economy based on high-tech medicine, education, and the arts. 

In Durham, the world-famous Durham Bulls baseball team rubs shoulders with the American Dance Festival, Duke University and its Medical Center, and NC Central University and its Museum of African-American Art.

The city has also been named by Southern Living as one of the hottest cities in the South, for its Farmers Market, its local breweries, and its fine-dining restaurants. 

Cook wants us to remember, however, that Durham is also a city living with its history as a Southern city.

There is a significant part of Durham that is still "scarred by segregation," and by the unequal impact of urban renewal, where "condos sprout from the rubble of blighted neighborhoods, and affordable housing grows scarce." 

 This part of Durham "fights for the right to exist and struggles to keep its young people alive."

This is the part of Durham, where neighborhoods, churches, and commercial areas were destroyed to make way for a freeway that at once connected Durham to the rest of North Carolina's Research Triangle Park and the interstate highway system, and also cut Durham in half, sharply dividing the city along racial and economic lines.  

The Durham that Cook documents, in stunning photographs, is a part of the city where, as he puts it, unemployment is high, and young men, "saddled with criminal records and locked out of jobs, adrift between boredom and fear and survival . . . sell drugs and release their self-hatred by annihilating each other.

"Homicide is the fruit of economic isolation and a code of street justice entrenched when the law fails to protect their community. In 2013, it was the leading cause of death for African-American males ages 15-49 in this Durham. Their murders go unsolved and their mothers grieve to death; their children grow up without dads and wander toward their same fate."

Cook makes this documentary personal by introducing us to Joslin Simms, shown weeping in the image at the top of this blog entry. 

She stands at the corner of Broad and Leon Streets in Durham where her son Rayburn, 30, was shot to death on May 21, 2005.

Cook gives Simms a voice in this piece, enabling her to in effect co-author it with him. He ends with Simms' voice, a voice that entreats us to 

Take away the guns and madness
    Save another family from this sadness;
I can’t fake a smile, or stifle my scream
Wake me up from my walking death
    Wake me up, wake me up

“Since Ray been murdered," she says, "I have nightmares. I dream of him in the morgue, and when they are cutting his body I wake up because I can feel the knife cutting me.” 

This is a part of Durham with too many funerals, too much pain and suffering. 

Cook gets that part of the story about right. 

But he also gets right a broader story, one in which people form community to support each other through hard times and the challenges of life in the South where not everyone shares fully in the new New South of the 21st century.

Cook also gets right some signs of hope, in which people endure, basic Southern concerns with family get affirmed, and new possibilities open before us. 

Congratulations to Cook for his fine work, and also to the Bitter Southerner for bringing it to us.