Friday, April 27, 2012

Kael Alford Comes Home to Photograph the American South

Dallas, Texas-based photographer Kael Alford joins Shane Lavalette and Martin Parr in this year's Picturing the South show at the  High Museum of Art, up in Atlanta from June 9th through September 2nd, 2012.

The work Alford will have on display is from her portfolio Home on the Water, a body of work she has made while covering post-Katrina Louisiana.

Alford is best-known for her photojournalism, for her work in dangerous places like Iraq. Born in New York, she had never been to the South before she was assigned by a magazine to cover post-Katrina Louisiana. She's now been working there for five years.

Alford did have some ideas about the world she was entering because her grandmother was from coastal Louisiana, the daughter of French and Native American people, who, Alford says, told her stories as a child about shrimping, and about coastal life, and about family, and loss, and place -- all the basic stuff of Southern stories, and of the Southern experience. 

After her experiences covering war-torn places, she says that photographing in Louisiana after Katrina was a way of coming home.

After her war work, she says, "America felt distant to me, but then I discovered Louisiana, which is like a foreign country to many Americans. New Orleans in that moment was like the places I'd been – the airport was closed, the place was a physical wreck, the people were uprooted and I had a personal connection to Louisiana through my grandmother. I felt comfortable and purposeful again."

Alford's connections to her subjects, and her emotional response to this place, so familiar and yet so strange, in many and often complex and conflicting ways, come through this body of work with rare intensity and depth.

You can read about Alford's career, and about her work in Iraq and in Louisiana in a long and deeply personal interview she did for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma with Donna DeCesari, an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas.

You can hear Alford talk about her homecoming in Louisiana, and about her work there, and see lots more of her images from this portfolio in a video, here, also from the Dart Center.

All I can say to Alford is, welcome home, and thanks for coming on down.

When the Misrach show and Alford's show are both up at the High this summer, that's going to be a powerful combination of photographic visions, and a powerful and compelling reason to head for Atlanta.

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