The folks at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta have commissioned British photographer Martin Parr to make a portfolio of work in the American South as part of their ongoing series of commissions to bring distinguished contemporary photographers to the South to make work for the High's photography collections.
One can see the kind of work Parr is doing thanks to CNN, which has posted a portfolio of Parr's work in Atlanta, called Up and Down Peachtree, viewable here.
The premises of this kind of undertaking are very complicated, I think. One runs the risk of getting work that is in the style of the distinguished photographer, for which the subject matter is mostly the occasion to make a piece of work in that particular style.
In other words, the Southern setting -- which is important to us because its home -- is here yet another occasion -- more or less indifferent to the photographer -- for the performance of a style of seeing, a completion of an assignment, a delivery of a product.
If you go to Martin Parr's website, you will see that he does this sort of thing a lot.
He's good at it. And you might want to look at his images made on other assignments and ask yourself if he sets out with a shot list of certain compositions that he is looking for -- images to check off -- that help him perform his style and also let him know when he is done with this assignment and can move on to the next.
There might be, for example, the image of people holding leaves, that one can make in Port Eliot, in Cornwall, and also on Peachtree Street in Atlanta.
Parr actually thinks about this -- you can see his discussion of photographic cliches on his blog, here
One might like to think that the place of working has consequences for the photographer doing the work, and that that aspect of a photographic project might be important to the quality of the outcome of the project.
In other words, the best work in this vein might be a product of an interaction between place, photographer, and performance of the craft, so that there would be tangible consequences visible in the work of the place of its creation, consequences deeper than the play of light over surface of the objects that are photographed.
As a working hypothesis, one might argue that the best work of this kind is made when the photographer is changed in the process of working in a place, and that change is visible in some way in the work itself.
Do we see any of that in Parr's work? Or did he drop out of the sky onto Peachtree Street, do his Parr-thing for a while, and then head off to the next assignment?
There is also the question of why the High invests money in this kind of project. Is it for the insights the work may bring to our understanding of the American South, or is it about the creation of a certain kind of opportunity to create a show with big names and local interest?
Your thoughts are welcomed.