Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jerry Atnip is Having a Memorable 2011

Nashville-based photographer Jerry Atnip is having an exceptional year, with multiple exhibitions of his work both here and abroad.

We noted earlier his participation in the 4th Annuale, now up at Charlotte, NC's Light Factory.

We now learn he also now has work in the Emirates Photography Exhibition at the Abu Dhabi  Authority for Culture & Heritage, Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, one of three photographers representing the USA in this exhibition. .

But Jerry, this year, has also had work on display internationally in shows in Geneva, Switzerland; Paris, France; and Budapest, Hungary.

Nor has he neglected the domestic front, with work in shows in Atlanta, GA; Paducah, KY; Nashville, TN; Boone, NC: Monroe, LA; and Nagagdoches, TX.

Jerry does stunning B&W work so all this recognition is well-deserved. I'm only hoping he got to go to the opening reception for every one of these shows.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

John Edwin Mason on South x Southeast Photomagazine and Southern Photography

John Edwin Mason, who I think hails from Virginia and who I know does documentary photography of drag racing in Virginia and carnivals in South Africa, has a lengthy review of the first issue of South x Southeast Photomagazine HERE. 

John has great -- and well-deserved -- things to say about SxSE. He also has some very interesting things to say about the question with which I started this blog. That's the question of whether there is a distinctive Southern photography.

John asks, "Is there really anything distinctive about Southern photography?  Which is just another way of asking, Is there anything distinctive about the South?"

John says there is, and for him it comes down to race, place, and memory.

This is what John has to say:

"It's hard to imagine any part of America (and few places on earth) where place, race, and memory don't matter. . . . . .   It's not their mere existence that makes the South distinctive, it's their prominence and their particular configuration in the region's history and culture.  This is reflected, to one extent or another, in Southern photography.

"Take race.  African-Americans have lived in all regions of this country, and segregation has often shaped our lives.  But in the South, more so than in any other part of the country, racial segregation has co-existed with racial proximity, even racial intimacy.  Black and white Southerners have been much more likely than people elsewhere to know each other by name, to live near each other, and, in the case of servants and slaves and masters and mistresses, among each other.

"Spatial proximity has had cultural consequences.  You hear it in Southern speech and music; you feel it in Southern manners; you taste it in Southern food; you read it in Southern literature; and you see it in Southern photography.

"Take memory.  More so than other parts of the country, Southern memory is about violence, loss, and dispossession.  The precise content of these memories isn't necessarily the same for all Southerners.  (Think, for instance, about what slavery and the Civil War signify to blacks, on the one hand, and to whites, on the other.)  

"But no matter who we're talking about, many of the most powerful memories are about humiliation and defeat on American soil, memories of a kind that no other Americans share (or didn't share until 11 September 2001.)  This is also part of Southern photography.  So, too, is its dialectical opposite, the insistence on finding dignity and worth in the midst of a legacy of suffering.

"Take place.  In the South, the history that matters the most is the history that happened here, right here, in this place.  Southern artists, the great ones anyway, know that Faulkner was right when he said that "the past isn't over.  It isn't even past."  Yesterday is inescapable.  Without it, we can't understand today."

For John, there is a South, and a Southern photography, and their identities are wrapped up in how they engage the questions of race, place, and memory. That's not all there is to it, but I think that's a good place to start.

I'm not sure John knows about The Blog about FineArt photography in the American South but I hope I can get his attention so he can join in some of our conversations.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jeff Rich Continues to Have a Year to Remember as a Photographer

In the last year, Savannah-based photographer  Jeff Rich has had work in numerous shows, has won major prizes including the Critical Mass Book Publication Prize and the Magenta Flash Foward Emerging Photographer Prize, and now he's in One One Thousand with the second portfolio of his work documenting the landscape of the watersheds that make up the southeastern quarter of the Mississippi River Basin. 

This portfolio is called Watershed: Chapter II - The Tennessee River. It attends to the complex situation of a system of rivers that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) tries to control and harness for the abatement of flooding, navigation on the rivers, economic development, and finally electric power production. 

Jeff 's landscapes are about the relationship between the natural and the human, unlike the older, Ansel Adams--inspired school of landscape photography that took as a basic principle the exclusion of signs of "the hand of man," of human habitation. 

I will never forget when I learned that the natural -- exclusive of the human -- was a human construct, that, for example, when creating the Great Smokey Mountains National Park the Park Service did not simply fence in a vast wilderness but in fact had to move people off the land whose natural beauty they sought to preserve. They in fact created the wilderness, not simply preserve it. 

Jeff photographs the natural world as most of us experience it today, acknowledging that bridges and power lines and and human beings are as much a part of a landscape as the rocks, trees, and water. 

Jeff has a strong ethical element in his work, supporting responsible and sustainable human presence in the natural environment. He has a strong sense of light and composition. I'm intrigued by the way in which he engages human and built elements with water and trees and and other physical elements of the land into his images.

I'm glad he's been listed for some time now as a Southern Photographer We Watch Out For. In his work and in his career there's a lot to see.

Dana Mueller on One One Thousand

The New Orleans-based fine art photography ezine One One Thousand is featuring at the moment the work of Dana Mueller, a Massachusetts-based photographer whose journey as an artist has taken her from cold war East Germany to Boston, Massachusetts and now to a cotton field in rural North Carolina, near Elizabeth City.

Mueller's portfolio is called The Devil's Den, and it is so rich in strong images and yet so rife with conceptual ironies as to be worthy of some serious reflection about photography as an artistic medium at the present moment.

Let's just say up front that photography is a complex medium of artistic practice that in its fullest sense combines artistic intention, technical skill in realization, social structures of presentation, and an audience for its reception that is a mix of personal history and taste as well as a socially-constructed understanding (or understandings) of what constitutes art and history and culture. Individual images reside at the intersection of all these elements, and we make meaning of them by responding to them or bringing them together in our own experience.

Now lets consider the image above, an image shot in a cotton field in eastern North Carolina sometime in the late spring, on an overcast day, when the leaves of the cotton plant are lush and green, when the blossoms of the cotton plant are just coming into bloom. 

This is an elegantly maintained cotton field. There are no weeds in the white earth that separates the rows of cotton.

My guess is, looking at the pristine surface of these cotton plants, that it has recently rained, and the rain has washed away the dust that swirls up from that white earth in cotton fields like this one, and perhaps also washed away the traces of the insecticide that has been sprayed on these plants to protect them from the boll weevil and other destructive insects that would make the practice of cotton farming even more hazardous and risky than it usually is.

Soon the blossoms will turn into the fruit of the cotton plant, the cotton bolls that will contain the seed, and the plant will surround them with a hard husk that will burst with white fibers that today will eventually be harvested by a mechanized cotton picker, run through a gin that will separate the seeds and husk of the cotton boll from the fibers and and the fibers will be collected and sent off to cotton mills that will turn the fibers into cloth, perhaps curtains or upholstery, or perhaps clothing, perhaps blue jeans, perhaps shirts or pants or coats, or perhaps even flags that symbolize national and cultural identity.

But that time is some months off in this image, which exists now at a moment of seeming tranquility, from which signs of time's passage are mostly absent from the plants themselves, locating them in a kind of timeless place, an image made up of lines and shapes and organization and color. Except for the poles sticking up against the overcast sky that remind us there is electricity in this landscape, one can easily imagine this image being made anytime in the past 250 or 300 years. 

Formally considered, this is an elegant image, with lots of compositional things working for it, with the rows of uniform green divided -- and complemented by -- the whiteness of the rows of soil that divide them and enriched by the whiteness of the occasional blossom, a whiteness that will be picked up in the whiteness of the house on the horizon line.

The photographer has placed the camera at a point in the cotton field so that the rows of cotton plants draw us in from the surface of the image into the field, and through the field to the grove of trees toward the rear of the image, where the trees to  some degree will shelter the house they surround from the merciless Southern summer sun.

But of course not the workers. There is no shelter for the workers. If you are from "around here," you know this is the "land of cotton," and so this image comes as a haunted landscape, a landscape populated by the ghosts of slaves who were bought and compelled to work this land, to grow cotton, to chop the weeds and tend the plants and to do the hard, back-breaking labor of picking it and getting it to the gins and the mills. And it is also haunted by the ghosts of their children who worked this land in their day, in the day of Jim Crow, on this land haunted by its past.

Especially it is haunted by those ghosts because it comes to us in a portfolio called The Devil's Den. Because -- whatever else the phrase "Devil's Den" might mean to Mueller or someone else -- around here the Devil's Den is a place near Gettysburg, PA, on the site of a battle which was the high water mark of Southern efforts to defend the right to buy human beings and compel them to work in these fields and to grow and pick this cotton. So the ghosts that haunt this field include the ghosts of the hundreds of thousands of men who died to preserve or to end the practices that once filled fields like this one with the workers who were compelled made it productive.

So that's my context for reception of Mueller's image, and so this image is to me at once a reminder of that past and also a romanticizing of it, an evocation of Southern history and a distancing of us from it, an image that is both evocative of time and yet drained of the dust, the heat, the labor, the grit, the sweat, the agony, the suffering, the rage, that are all fully part of it. Art can evoke; art can distance. Art can enable us to look; art can help us forget.

But here the real ironies start to kick in. For Mueller, this is also a haunted land, but its haunted by a different set of ghosts. What has brought Mueller to this cotton field in eastern North Carolina has nothing to do with Southern history, with the Devil's Den in Pennsylvania, with the tortured legacy of slavery, when cotton was king and life was cheap. Indeed, Mueller imagines labor in this field as a "caring, benign work with the land," which of course means she has never worked in a cotton field, or seen it done.

Mueller comes here on a different trail, on a different journey, following ghosts of a totally different set of horrors and devastation and rampant cruelty. Mueller seeks traces of another war, World War II, and the ghosts of her people, her ancestors, and their legacy of violence, destruction, and genocide. For it turns out that a significant number of Germans were taken prisoner in World War II and were brought to prisoner of war camps in the eastern USA (over 400,000 by the end of the war, it seems), and especially, it seems, in the American South. 

Mueller has sought in recent years to find traces of their presence in her adopted country. Her concern has been to address "exile, German identity, memory, history and landscape" by photographing "sites related to the WWII German Prisoner-of-War experience in the US."

As she puts it, "There is an irony where these German soldiers, both high-ranking Nazi officers and foot soldiers, were tilling the fields, cutting the lumber, picking apples, taking care of the American soil. This caring, benign work with the land stands in complete contrast to the horrific actions by Nazis and German soldiers in Eastern Europe of that time, such as Hitler's scorched earth policy."

I'm not sure the German prisoners who worked in the cotton fields fields of eastern North Carolina had caring or benign feelings about that land or their work, but let that pass. What is more intriguing is Mueller's sense of her goal in photographing this landscape. "I wanted," she writes, "to visually evoke the dualities that have characterized the German people over centuries, a people that are capable of both tremendous progress and destruction."

Further, she notes, "Romanticism has played a role in understanding the relationship of Germans to the landscape. In some photographs the land is overgrown appearing in a kind of primal state, suggesting the return to the original forest. It also suggests a fascist aesthetic of purity promoted by pre-war German culture. Innocence and purity can be seen as a natural desire to regress after one has become corrupted."

The ironies multiply. Mueller's images -- when seen by these Southern eyes -- themselves romanticize a landscape haunted by the history of slavery; to her these images foreground the way romanticism promises an escape from one's sense of one's corruption through fantasies of regression into a primal state, escaping into fabrications of innocence and purity.

Well, that's what Southern white folks did after the Civil War, combining fables about the purity of antebellum Southern life with the violence of Jim Crow and the Klan.

We can talk another time about whether (or how) a back story or a concept can elevate the subject matter of a photograph of an ordinary place into something special or unique, but for now, thanks to Dana Mueller for following her relatives to the cotton fields of eastern North Carolina, and for giving us some language and images to think not only about her predicament but ours as well.

And thanks to the folks at One One Thousand who put Mueller's work in their publication and in their editorial remarks on this portfolio remind us of the resonance for Southerners of the phrase Devil's Den but don't try to speculate on why Mueller might have chosen it for the title of her portfolio. Good to help us wonder.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gordon Parks and the FSA

The distinguished photographer and film maker Gordon Parks was born in Kansas, but his legacy was the legacy of Southern history, and he made coming to terms with that history as an African-American an essential part of his life's work as a photographer.

Parks died in 2002, but a new book of his work for the Farm Service Administration (FSA), called Fields of Vision: The Photographs of Gordon Parks, is just out from the Library of Congress and Giles Publishing company.

In celebration of its publication the New York Times has a feature on Parks, including a portfolio of the images from this book, on its LENS blog, HERE.

Parks' work for the FSA documents Americans deep in the Depression and African-Americans deep in both the Depression and the experience of American apartheid we call Jim Crow. I'm certainly buying a copy of this book, and I encourage you to do the same.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rachel Nemecek is Having a Fine Summer in Charlotte

Charlotte-based photographer Rachel Nemecek is having a summer to remember in Charlotte. She has work in two juried shows at the moment, one at the DOMA Gallery and the other at the Light Factory, Charlotte's center for still and moving photography.

I had the good fortune to see her work in the Light Factory show on Saturday (DOMA, bless 'em, was closed for the day), and I came away strongly taken with this work.

This work is from a portfolio called Waiting  and Rachel says of it, "This collection covers photos taken over the last year or so while waiting. Often waiting on my son or at some family activity. Often in very institutional places, with bad florescent lighting. Often where every room is painted a vague shade of tan. Often for quite some time. Unlike my world – either the one I live in or the one in my head – the world here is quiet. There is a feeling of suspension; moments between what has happened and what might happen next. A sense of relief or respite, of interruption. A time out to examine the objects around, which are all waiting too, and will be long after we are gone. A time to wait for what will come."

The feeling of "time out" is palpable in these images, time out to consider the form of a pencil sharpener or of a handicapped access chair in a swimming pool, or of a very institutional doorway leading to a stairwell.

Rachel's handling of light and composition in her images is masterful. She has chosen to present this work printed relatively small (maybe 8x10 or so), and simply matted in a classic frame. The format invites the viewer into the kind of contemplation that produced it.

A photographer friend once told me advice her teacher had given her about photography that if you can't make it good, make it big, and if you can't make it big, make it red. This work does not to be big or red to be engaging and rewarding.

Rachel is doing good work, and I look forward to seeing more of it, so I'm adding her to my list of Southern Photographers We're Getting to Know.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Southern Photographers in Fraction Magazine Show in San Francisco

The on-line magazine Fraction, and its attendant blog, are among the most respected sites on the photography web. They have been in business for three years and have published 28 issues, each assembling work around a central theme, idea, or concept, and each showing portfolios of a number of photographers.

Their choices of photographers over the years constitute a first-rate guide to styles, trends, and practitioners in contemporary fine art photography.

Now Fraction has gone over the the real world and planned a show of work by 30 of the photographers they have featured in the on-line magazine, to be held at the Gallery of the Rayko Photography Center at 428 Third Street, in San Francisco.

The show has been curated by David Bram, the founder and editor of Fraction. It will be called Fraction Magazine: Three Years in the Making. It opens with a reception on August 11th, 2011 and will be up through September 18th.

We discuss this here because photographers with Southern connections are often featured in Fraction. In fact, I have first made the acquaintance of a number of photographers featured on this blog through their appearance in Fraction.

Photographers living and/or working in the South who have work in this show because they have previously been featured in various issues of Fraction include Hollis Bennett, Polly Chandler, Eliot Dudik, Meg Griffiths, Norman Mauskopf, Samuel Portera, Kathleen Robbins, Michael Sebastian, and Allison V Smith

That's a fine group of folks. Glad to have made their acquaintance, as well as the acquaintance of other Southern photographers, in the web pages of Fraction.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ann George Wins Professional Women Photographers Prize

Louisiana photographer Ann Marye George has been named winner of an international contest sponsored by the Professional Women Photographers Association. The theme of the competition was CONTRASTS, and Ann won with a set of three images, including the one shown above.

More of Ann's work is on her website HERE. There is an interview with her on the PWP blog HERE.

Ann does intriguing work, much of it in a romantic mood, with lots of attention to surface textures, to interesting use of monochromatic tones, and to evocative imagery, as well as more classic, very well seen B&W work.

Though she did shoot a portfolio of straight color portraits of Rod Stewart in concert. Oh well, a shooter has got to get paid, after all.

Thanks to Lori Vrba for bringing Ann and her work, and her award, to my attention.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is Shelby Lee Adams a Realist or a Pornographer?

Shelby Lee Adams has been photographing his friends and neighbors in Kentucky for years. Now, he has gotten the attention of folks who find the people he photographs painful to look at, and so his work has been labeled Poverty Porn by one Jason Huettner.

Check out the story HERE, on an interesting blog called Hyperallergic: Sensitive to Art and its Discontents, which at the moment also includes other interesting stories about photography in the South, including this one on the Marigny section of New Orleans and this one on Amy Mackie and the Southern Open, an art show she juried in Lafayette, LA.

I bet there's more stuff on this blog of interest to us, and I'll start digging it up.

For the moment, back to Shelby Lee Adams.

I will defend any Southern photographer's right to document Southern culture in all its diversity and complexity. The term "pornography" is a complex word, usually referring to the viewer, not the subject, and applicable to work intended to exploit the viewer's sense of inadequacies in life, catering to unsatisfied desires for control, for possession, for the illusion of power through superficial visual gratification. 

In fact, the term may well be applied far more readily in Southern photography to some of the work shot for magazines like Southern Living and Garden and Gun, where the white country club culture of the South is glorified, commodified, and celebrated and made available in all its sterile glory to the rest of us for a couple of bucks an issue.

Jason Huettner ends his piece on Adams in rather condescending fashion, finding that Adams does not measure up to his standard for photographing folks who are not part of the middle class, which must include awareness that one is working in "an ethnographic or documentary capacity" and "must be cognizant of the politics of representation and the agency of their subjects."

In Adams' work, I in fact see people who enjoy being who they are, living the lives they have come to live. I have no idea how these folks really feel about themselves, but in Adams' images they seem at peace with themselves. If anything, Adams' images are neither realistic nor pornographic but romantic, owing far more to Flannery O'Connor than to Larry Flynt.

Joerg Colberg over on the Conscientious blog also has some concerns about Huettner's piece, though they are different from mine. He argues that complaining about the kind of work Adams does is useless, because "our hand-wringing about these photographs ultimately won’t have any consequences - unless we spring into some sort of actual action."  Which we are unlikely to do.

I'm all for Shelby Lee Adams. And, contrary to Joerg Colberg, I'm not wringing my hands over these folks. Adams' work clearly makes some middle class folks uncomfortable at a time when so much fine art photography is about cleverness, irony, and the celebration of the reassuringly bland. His work is a reminder that people who live differently make us want to make them like us.

The folks in Adams' images look remarkably like some of the folks I'm related to. I don't want to live their lives, and they don't want to live mine, but once a year at the family reunion we acknowledge we are kinfolks, and the South is big enough for all of us.

Monday, July 11, 2011

UPDATED -- North Carolina Photographers Featured at Light Factory and DOMA Gallery, also at the NC Museum of Art

Charlotte's Light Factory now has up its fourth juried Annuale, through September 25th, 2011, at the Light Factory, 345 North College Street, in Charlotte.

Susan Edwards was the juror.

Winners include Asheville, NC's Scott Hubener, Matthews, NC's Glenn DeRosa, Charlotte's Rachel Nemecek, and Nashville's Jerry Atnip.

(Winners also include Lynda Harris and Ronit Citri, but, as my father would say, they aren't from around here.)

More about all of them HERE.

Also in Charlotte, DOMA Photography Gallery at 1310 South Tryon Street,  is hosting a juried exhibit of work by five North Carolina photographers, entitled  the "Eyes of Carolina Exhibition," up now through September 3, 2011.

This show features work by Asheville's Eric Baden, Chapel Hill's Frank Konhaus, Wilmington's Mike Smith, and Charlotte's Jeff Murphy and Rachel Nemecek.

Images from this show are now available on line from DOMA, HERE.

Since Rachel is having a summer to remember, her image gets featured on this blog entry (see above).

Larry Wheeler, the Director of  North Carolina Museum of Art, was the juror. You can read his remarks about his selections HERE.

Speaking of Larry Wheeler, his museum in Raleigh (well, OUR museum in Raleigh, but he runs it), better known as the North Carolina Museum of Art, is hosting two shows this summer that alsoeature North Carolina photographers in prominent roles.

One is entitled Landscape Sublime: Contemporary Photography (up now through November 13th), which includes the work of a who's who of distinguished North Carolina photographers -- John Menapace, Elizabeth Matheson, David Simonton, Titus Heagins, Caroline Vaughan, and Alex Harris

The other show is entitled Mirror Image: Women Portraying Women, up now through November 27th.

This is a multi-media show that includes paintings and other media, but also includes photographs by North Carolina photographers Margaret Sartor, Linda Foard Roberts, elin o’Hara slavick, Caroline Vaughan, Mary Shannon Johnstone, and Susan Harbage Page.

Both these shows are in the NCMA's East Building, and both are well worth a long, meditative visit.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

John Rosenthal at the Gregg Museum

Chapel Hill, NC photographer John Rosenthal  has a major show of work made in New Orleans, called THEN... ABSENCE: after Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward, at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, on the campus of NC State University, in Raleigh, NC, up now through August 13th, 2011.

John is a long-time resident of Chapel Hill, though he started his career as a photographer in New York City, creating a body of work published in 1998 by Safe Harbor Books with the title Regarding Manhattan.

He was also published in the 2005 volume QUARTET: Four North Carolina Photographers, also by Safe Harbor Books, along with Ron Amberg, Elizabeth Matheson, and Caroline Vaughan.

John is known primarily for contemplative Black & White photography. In this show, he switches to color work for a series of compelling images made in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward two years after Katrina. 

John got to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans and to the poor neighborhood of the Ninth Ward after the flood waters had receded, after bulldozers had removed the wreckage of more than 5,300 homes, leaving nothing but streets and foundations to indicate where a densely populated neighborhood had once stood.

John's emphasis in this work is on the lingering traces of what happened, traces of what has been lost. For little has been replaced or restored. Only a small percentage the the houses have been rebuilt, and there is still no fire department, grocery store, or medical clinic in the neighborhood.

John's work emphasizes destruction of community centers, especially destroyed churches, ruined flags, religious figures strewn in the grass, steps that lead nowhere,. In a way the iconic shot of the show is of a building with a sign painted on the wall that reads, "1600 people died so you could take this picture."

One might say that post-Katrina New Orleans has been overworked by photographers, but  when the work is as strong as John's, it's very much worth doing, and seeing, if you are in Raleigh.

Major Photography Shows In but Only Tangentially Of The South, Part One -- The Jazz Loft Project

Duke University's Nasher Museum is hosting a splendid show of photographs at the moment by the distinguished mid-20th-century photographer W. Eugene Smith called The Jazz Loft Project: W. Eugene Smith in New York City, 1957-1965.

The images in this show are classic '50s-60s black and white shots of street scenes in NYC's flower district and of jazz musicians, notably Thelonious Monk, Zoot Sims, Charlie Mingus, Roland Kirk, Bill Evans, and others who were in the process of transforming the 40s big band jazz of Ellington and Basie into the small group be-bop and post-bop styles on which contemporary mainstream jazz is based.

These musicians shared a dilapidated five-story loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue with Smith, who had left his job with Life Magazine in the mid-1950's and moved into the building while he pursued his Pittsburgh project, a freelance documentary job that turned into a four-year obsession that Smith was never able to finish. 

Smith was obsessive about everything he did. While living in the building at 821 Sixth Avenue, he shot 1,447 rolls of film, over 40,000 photographs, the largest body of work in his career, making some of the iconic portraits of the jazz musicians with whom he shared the space, as well as a rich body of street photographs, chiefly of life on the streets of the flower district, as seen from his fourth-floor window. 

Smith also turned the building into a recording studio by setting up reel-to-reel tape recorders and made 1,740 reels (4,000 hours) of stereo and mono audiotapes, capturing more than 300 musicians rehearsing, composing, and planning their careers. 

In addition to the photographs of the musicians and the NYC street scenes, Smith also documented visits to the Jazz Loft by a host of other notables, including Norman Mailer, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Salvidor Dali, as well as pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, thieves, photography students, local cops, building inspectors and marijuana dealers.

When Smith died, this vast body of work was sent to the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography with the rest of Smith's archive, where it sat in obscurity until it came to the attention of the photographic historian Sam Stephenson, a member of the staff at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies.  

Stevenson stumbled across this material while working on a project to make something of the thousands of images Smith made in Pittsburgh. That effort resulted in the book Dream Street: W. Eugeme Smith's Pittsburgh Project 1955-1958, after which Stevenson turned to the Jazz Loft material, which has led to its own book, and to a website, and to a radio show, and to this exhibition.
This show features original prints of many of Smith's images, which remind us that Smith was a wizard in the darkroom as well as with the camera.  It also includes excerpts from some of the recordings.

After the show closes in Durham later this month, it is off to the Museum of Photographic Arts
 in San Diego and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.  

Southern connections? After all, Smith was from Kansas. Well, the Center for Documentary Studies is in the South, Sam Stevenson is on its staff,  the exhibit is at the Nasher, which is also in the South, jazz music is rooted in the African-American culture of the South, and a number of the musicians seen or heard in this material were Southerners, including Thelonious Monk, who was born in Rocky Mount, NC.

This is a must-see show. Get there, or get the book, or both.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Alia Malley's Southland

Given the name of Alia Malley's portfolio Southland and the look of the images (see above), you would think that her work was made in the American South. But it wasn't.

For an interview with Alia Malley on the Conscientious blog, go HERE.  In this conversation, Malley explains where this body of work was made, and what was on her mind, and how to raise money on Kickstarter, but not why she named the portfolio Southland.  Oh well.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Magdalena Sole Photographs the Mississippi Delta

Spanish-born and NYC-based photographer Magdalena Sole has published a portfolio of her photographs of the Mississippi Delta in the latest issue (Issue 28) of the on-line photomagazine Fraction. 

Magdalena was born in Spain while Franco was dictator of that country. Her family fled to Switzerland, where she learned what life is like as a stranger, as one who, as she says, had to live while "navigating a society that was very hostile to outsiders." Here, she says, she learned "to understand exclusion, and a life lived at the margins."

As a result, she felt at home in the Mississippi Delta: "I was drawn to the people I met in the Delta," she says. "Unlike most people I had encountered in other areas, Delta people allowed me to slip into their midst as if they had known me forever; we could swap stories and laughter, sorrow and silence. This happened not just once or twice; it happened every day in every town. In the most unexpected places I found kinship. I arrived as an outsider, but I was gradually so absorbed into the fabric of life there that I felt not like an outsider but rather like the family member who happened to have the camera."

Magdalena says, "The Delta evokes visions of sharecroppers, plantations and, of course, the sound of the Blues. The area has a small wealthy gentry and a large impoverished underclass living in dilapidated houses and tilting trailers. The Delta is one of the poorest places in the United States with the saddest infant mortality rate, rampant unemployment and little hope for a better future."

On the other hand, she says, "What is little known is the resilience, resourcefulness and family cohesiveness of its people."  Its this quality of Delta life that she captures well in her images. She's been to the South many times now, and we hope she keeps coming back.

Hope she meets Kathleen Robbins on one of her trips -- I expect they would have a lot to say to each other as they look at each other's work. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.

See more of her work on the Fraction website, and also on her home page, and watch for her forthcoming book entitled “New Delta Rising," to be published by the University Press of Mississippi in early 2012.