Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Aaron Blum, or the Problem of West Virginia

The West Virginia-based photographer Aaron Blum is currently featured on Joerg Colberg's blog Conscientious with links to a fascinating portfolio of work called Born and Raised: Reflections of a World Set Aside, about the experience of living in West Virginia.

I highly recommend having a look at this work. It is strong work, and I am grateful to Joerg for bringing it to our attention.

Blum's work -- along with the way Blum talks about it -- raises questions of identity similar to questions one could raise about Florida or west Texas, in relationship to the American South.

Blum thinks of himself as living in a distinctive region of the country, in part definable as Appalachia.

There is of course lots of Appalachia in the South, and it has a distinctive cultural character that contributes to our overall identity as Southerners.

One can hardly imagine, for example, today's South without the music of Appalachia, without bluegrass or without Nashville or Memphis, where the music of Appalachia met the music of the Mississippi Delta.

There is also the issue of how a region is viewed.

Blum writes, on his website, that "Outsiders have long fictionalized the narrative surrounding Appalachia. As a resident of West Virginia I have always been aware of the views others hold of my home, and they have guided me to create my own version of life in the hills. My Appalachia is a granulated depiction based on the false impressions of others, my idealizations and personal experiences."

Blum also thinks of West Virginia as a land where "Light plays an important role," a place where a "warm southern sun creates a glow that pours over the mountains, rivers and forests creating long shadows, dark recesses and gray mists that blanket the landscape."

A warm southern sun -- Blum's sense of identity as a West Virginia photographer looks eastward to Virginia and southward, toward Kentucky and Tennessee and North Carolina. He is thinking of himself as a Southern photographer, or at least a photographer of the South.

Part of the purpose of an Artist's Statement is to direct the viewer's attention, to take a shot at establishing the terms of the conversation that will commence about one's work.

For Blum, the light of a southern sun has a "unique quality" that "is inherent to the hills and provides a catalyst to the imagination- a backdrop that becomes both magnificent and eerie. It is its own character within my story of Appalachia."

This brings us to the question of identity, especially of a Southern identity. Is it the light? Or the history?

When I set up this blog, I gambled on history, by deliberately including the states of the old Confederacy, even though I knew that subsequent events had given to places like Florida and west Texas an identity and a culture significantly different from the southeastern states.

West Virginia was created to have a history different from the history of Virginia at the defining moment of Southern history, so I've not regarded it as a Southern state.

I wonder what our friends over at SXSE think about this question.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Catching Up with the Blogs -- Forer, Simonton, Mead, Garner

Former Chapel Hill-based photographer Taj Forer has a photo featured on FlakPhoto, here.

Raleigh-based photographer David Simonton is interviewed on the blog Two-Way Lens, go here.

Also, two young Charleston, SC- based photographers have been listed as among this year's best emerging artists in Charleston by Charleston Magazine

They are Melinda Mead (see image above) and Nina Garner, both of whose work is definitely worth checking out.

Friday, November 18, 2011

PhotoNOLA on the Horizon

Attention on the Southern Photography Festival Circuit now turns to New Orleans and its annual December photography festival, PhotoNOLA, opening December 8th and running through the 11th, 2011.

PhotoNOLA was started by the New Orleans Photo Alliance (NOPA), as one response to Hurricane Katrina, to celebrate photography and promote economic recovery in New Orleans.

This is the 6th PhotoNOLA, and you can learn all about it HERE, check the Calendar of Events HERE, learn about the Portfolio Review HERE, and see the full list of exhibitions HERE, and the Educational Events HERE.

One of the highly anticipated features of PhotoNOLA is the decision about the PhotoNOLA Review Prize. Each year, the reviewers at the Portfolio Review choose three portfolios to receive this award.

Last year's winners were Dallas, Texas-based photographer Jungeun Lee, Chapel Hill-based photographer Lori Vrba (see image above), and Fort Worth, Texas-based photographer Loli Kantor.

We will have a full report on this year's winners when they are announced, as well as news from the Festival as it rolls in.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

McNair Evans in One One Thousand

One One Thousand, the online portfolio of Southern photography, features in this issue the work of North Carolina native photographer McNair Evans, in a body of work named, appropriately, A Journal of Southern History.

The Journal of Southern History is, by the way, the official publication of the Southern Historical Association.

In Evans' portfolio of Southern images, the history is more personal and immediate than the JSH usually deals with. His concerns are with perennial Southern issues -- family, history, economic and personal loss, the relationships between the generations-- as they affected his family in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

Evans says of this work, "A Journal of Southern History combines emotive expression, persistence of family and a landscape of loss to reveal inherent dichotomies in my rural North Carolina home."

When Evans' father died, his family discovered to their surprise that he was a failure in business. The emotional after effects of this discovery were years in the unfolding. Evans realized in 2010, nine years after his father's death, that he was still dealing with the consequences.

Evans told friends in California that he was going home to North Carolina to find his father. The result is this body of work, an effort, says Evans, "to retrace his [father's] life using photography as a vehicle of resolution."

Evans goes on:

"I photographed his family, friends, schools and businesses while researching his character and actions. Within my immediate family, I witnessed intense affliction and perseverance. My subject became emotional states and the photographs narrate my journey between isolation and acceptance. Finally understanding that some questions can never be answered, this series evokes critical moods without definitive explanations."

Southerners know that Evans in this work is dealing with basic issues for all of us from "around here." So much of the Southern experience for natives is caught up in dealing with the past, and with the decisions our forebears made, and their afterlife. This is the Bible Belt, and for us one of the most haunting verses from that book is the one about how the sins of the fathers are visited on their children and their children's children.

Evans now lives and works in San Francisco, where this body of work has earned him the Curator's Choice Award in a competition sponsored by Santa Fe's CENTER for Photography. The juror, Erin O'Toole of San Francisco's MOMA, said of this work, "McNair Evans garnered first prize for his lyrical use of light. All of the photographs he submitted are suffused with a warm, moody glow. They are emotional pictures whose languid dreaminess is tinged with melancholy and a palpable sense of loss."

Southerners will recognize the "warm, moody glow" in Evans' photographs as one of the the distinctive characteristics of Southern light.  I grew up about 30 miles from where Evans did, and many of his images hauntingly remind me of the landscapes I revisit when I go home.

This is rich, haunting work, enthusiastically recommended.

You can see more of his work here, at the Black Harbor website.

Do You Have This Photograph in Your Portfolio?

Do you have a color photograph of a Civil War rifle mounted on the wall over a fireplace? Preferrably a 19th century fireplace?

An editor in NYC who is working with a new paperback edition of the novels of William Faulkner is looking for one, perhaps for use on the cover of Faulkner's novel Flags in the Dust.

Please email Mary McClean at mmcclean@randomhouse.com if you do, and attach a jpeg for her consideration.

One would think lots of people would have this shot, but I've checked with several people already, to no avail.

Can anyone help Mary out?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Great Interview with Susan Worsham!

There is a great interview with Richmond-based photographer Susan Worsham, interviewed by Jonathan Blaustein, go HERE.

Well worth checking out!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Florida Issue of SxSE Magazine

The November issue of South by Southeast Magazine is now out, and available for a modest contribution, here.

It's mainly about Florida. Now, I went swimming outdoors in the evening once in Florida (and northern Florida at that) and I was perfectly comfortable until it hit me that I was swimming outdoors, in the evening, and it was the middle of November.

I know its supposed to be hot in the South, but in Florida I was swimming outdoors, in the evening,  in the middle of November.

So I've never been sure that Florida is in the South. I think it's Someplace Else. I think it's its own place.

I'm not sure where it is, exactly, but I do know that Miami or Tampa do not feel like Southern cities, the way Atlanta or Charlotte or Birmingham or Columbia or Memphis or Savannah or Richmond do. 

But it IS there, wherever it is, and Nancy and all the crew at SXSE have made an exceptionally strong accounting of it.

Here, among many other interesting things, you've got Vivian Maier’s Florida mid-century vacation photos, Jonathan Smith’s Florida coast photos from his series East/West, Florida highway scenery from Christian Harkness, Lisa Elmaleh’s black-and-whites of the Florida Everglades (see example above), Warren Thompsons’ south Florida postcards and souvenirs, Panoramic black-and-white images of south Florida from Mario Algaze, and Florida interiors by Joelle Jensen.

Wherever or whatever Florida is, these folks make some strong visual records of it, and I feel much more like I have my head around the place. 

And then there are all the regular features. Well worth your attention!

Friday, November 4, 2011

FOTOWeek DC is Upon US

The attention of photography festival aficionados in the South now shifts from Atlanta to Washington, DC, where the smaller-scale but no less significant FOTOWeek DC is upon us.

FOTOWeek DC Opens tomorrow, November 5th, 2011, with a run through November 12th. The Official Launch Party is tonight, November 4th, tickets here. 

FOTOWeek DC also runs competitions, the winners are listed here, and include Dallas, TX based photographer Nick Minton (image above) and Raleigh, NC based photographer Jimmy Williams, who won one of these awards last year and received an Honorable Mention this year. 

The Official Program of Exhibitions is here. Among the major shows up this year for FOTOWeek DC is the show of Harry Callahan's work at the National Gallery, the Gordon Parks and the Prix Pictet Shows at the Corcoran Gallery, the Beyond Witness exhibit of photojournalism at the Pulitzer Center, and the major group shows at Zone 2.8 and Civilian Arts Projects Galleries. 

The Prix Pictet show at the Corcoran seems especially significant, since Prix Pictet is a prestigious prize awarded to photographers whose work addresses social and environmental change and this is the first presentation of Prix Pictet in the United States.

This year the theme of the competition was Growth. The twelve artists featured in this show were shortlisted for this competition are Christian Als (Denmark), Edward Burtynsky (Canada), Stephanie Courturier  (France), Mitch Epstein (United States), Chris Jordan (United States), Yeondoo Jung (Korea), Vera Lutter (Germany), Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso), Taryn Simon (United States), Thomas Struth (Germany), Guy Tillim (South Africa), and Michael Wolf (Germany).

The American photographer Mitch Epstein was awarded the Prix Pictet this year for his series American Power.

There is of course a Portfolio Review, and workshops, and panels, and photography projected on DC buildings after dark -- a jam-packed week of photography.

I was there last year, but won't make it this year. But I will truly miss it. 

Jennifer Schwartz' Crusade in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jennifer Schwartz' plans to tour the country developing new markets for fine art photography and selling images from the back of a Volkswagen bus is featured in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Go here.

I'm now signed up through Kickstarter in this campaign to get Jennifer on the road out of Atlanta. This seems a crusade worth taking part in.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

This and That -- Matt Eich, Critical Mass, Jerry Atnip, Lori Waselchuk

Norfolk, VA based photographer Matt Eich is interviewed at length on Joerg Colberg's Conscientious blog, here.

Richmond, VA based photographer Susan Worsham (see image above), Austin, TX based photographer Sarah Wilson,  Washington, DC based photographer Susana Raab, Atlanta, GA baased photographer Sarah Hobbs, Tacoma Park, MD, based photographer, Michelle Frankfurter, and Houston, TX based photographer Scott Dalton are among the Nifty Fifty in this year's Critical Mass competition.

Not bad representation from folks from around here. Way to go, folks.

Also, Nashville, TN based photographer Jerry Atnip is featured in a fine article, with lots of Jerry's photographs,  in the current issue of Nashville Arts Magazine, here.

Finally, Philadelphia, PA based photographer Lori Waselchuk's portfolio Grace Before Dying  of images made in Angola Prison in Louisiana is up at the Umbrage Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, through January 12th, 2012.

Burk Uzzle and J. Lucian Scott at Flanders Gallery

Flanders Gallery, here in Raleigh, is known for its exceptionally strong photography shows. Another one is now up and will have its opening reception this Friday, November 4th, 2011, with a reception from 6-9 in the evening.

This show features Burk Uzzle, one of North Carolina’s major photographers. Burk was born in Raleigh and after apprenticing with the Raleigh News & Observer, went to work for LIFE Magazine in 1962, at the age of 25, then had a long career with Magnum.  

Burk is best known for his iconic images of the Civil Rights Movement and the Woodstock Music Festival. He now lives and photographs in Wilson, NC.

This show groups a small body of Burk’s work around  issues of serial composition, images in which, for example, a line-up of young children  clasping hands addresses issues of societal norms and personal pride in appearance.  In other images, the natural environment and the manufactured world clash in the meet-up of a pony and rocking horse, or a Prada store sits isolated in the midst of the desert.

The other photographer featured in this show is J. Lucian Scott, born on a  tobacco farm in North Carolina, who now moves between his family farm and his home in Los Angeles.  

This show features work from his Welcome to the Beautiful South portfolio, images that he bases on his experience of a bucolic childhood growing up in the South and as an identical twin, both of which have greatly influenced his work.  

Flanders Gallery says of this work that these “photographs merge figurative elements and classicism with the realities of his life experience, and range from portraiture to landscape and still life.”

I was not aware of Scott’s work, so I am recommending getting to this show and I am putting Scott on my list of Southern Photographers We are Getting to Know.