Monday, October 18, 2010

Jack Spencer, Southern Romantic Photographer

Nashville-based photographer Jack Spencer is featured in the current issue of the magazine Garden and Gun, a magazine out of Charleston, SC which bills itself as capturing the "Soul of the South." That's a bold claim for a magazine which is really about rich Southern white people with way too much time on their hands. The people in this magazine are not only all white, but they have nothing else to do except hang out at the country club or tramp around the woods in expensive tweeds while shooting at small furry or feathered creatures who would otherwise be free to go about their own business.

Being free to go about one's own business is a capability often highly prized in the South, and why these folks don't want to extend that privilege to Southern creatures of the woods and the air is beyond me. But they want to charge us $3 an issue so we can celebrate the joys of killing doves in McClellanville or ducks in Arkansas or pigs all over the place, not to mention the joys of building McMansions in the Georgia woods.

To bring this back to photography, they will even sell you a full-color photograph of a chicken, printed at 16x20 on "premium photo paper" and  "signed by the photographer," for only $300. This is Southern culture as kitsch, and they will make you a full member of the club's "Secret Society"  for only $500 a year, without checking on who your daddy is. Which tells you this is really about marketing, not Southern culture.

It is for people who aspire to be patrician, country-club white Southerners, not the real thing. If you are, you are, and you have to live with the consequences of your pappy's decisions, like all Southerners. After all, any publication that claims to be Southern but which thinks that Beach Music has anything to do with Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash is talking about a different South than the one I live in.

Now Jack Spencer has nothing to do with Garden and Gun, except that he got featured in it, and in laudable terms, too. A guy in the photography business needs publicity, and I'm sure for Jack this is great publicity. After all, he's a serious photographer and anyone who learns about his work from reading this magazine and decides to buy one of his images is getting one hell of a lot better photograph than the photograph of the chicken the magazine is trying to palm off on its readers for $300 a copy.

Not to mention the photograph of a pan of cornbread, also 16x20, also $300 a copy.  This is a straight shot of a skillet of cornbread, like I don't know what one looks like. But let that pass. Back to Jack Spencer and his photographs.

Jack is a good shooter whose vision of the world comes out of the tradition of the Southern romantic, even, sometimes, the Southern gothic, tradition. He is a photographer but he's interested in investing the moment with timelessness, not about deciding on the right moment.

This means, of course, that he does have the magnolia thing working for him.  I think we ought to declare a moratorium on Southern photographers shooting magnolias for at least a decade or two, but that's just me. I will grant that Jack's magnolias are well-seen, for Jack has a eye for elegant composition, and a way with technique that gets lots of texture and contrast into his images.

I did not previously know of his work, but he's had shows at the Andrew Smith Gallery in Santa Fe, NM  and the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago, as well as in museums and galleries across the South, from Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta to the Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC.

And he's definitely a Southern photographer, too. He has branched out in his choice of subject matter in the past few years, finding images to make in other states and countries, but somehow even very different locales -- like this shot from New Mexico -- come out in his images to look surprisingly Southern.

I'll give Garden and Gun this credit -- before I saw their current issue, I did not know of Jack's work, and now I do, and I'm glad of it. He's definitely a Southern photographer we'll watch out for.


  1. Love the blog -- love the comment on beach music -- and love Jack's work. He is a heck of a nice guy too.

  2. Strange, I suppose the entire purpose of a BLOG is to express one's opinions, but I am amazed that someone can prattle on about patrician aspirations without realizing that his own condescending tone wreaks of a person trying to prove that he is better than others. Go sit in Starbucks with your hippie friends and sip a five dollar coffee while you rail against global warming and the inevitable downfall of society...Oh, and don't forget your reading material, maybe a copy of "High Times".