Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Richard Misrach Photographs the American South

The High Museum in Atlanta is opening a show of photographs by California-based photographer Richard Misrach, as part of its Picturing the South series. The show is up from June 02 - October 07, 2012.

The High commissioned this work from Misrach in 1998, so its been a long time in coming.

I think with Misrach, you don't know which vision he will show up with.

He might bring the vision that delivers drop-dead gorgeous color landscapes or finds stunning compositions in the midst of a crowded seashore.

Or he might bring the vision that finds the end of the American middle class in the burnt-out suburbs of southern California, or perhaps some post-apocalyptic world in the dessicated carcasses of dead horses emerging from the desert.

The South provides plenty of evidence for many visions.

A colleague of mine was once involved in staging a public debate on the topic Resolved: The South is a World-Class Region. He told me later that the alternative topic proposed to his committee was Resolved: The South is a Third World Country. 

Misrach chose the latter way of viewing the South in this portfolio, which the High is exhibiting under the title Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley

His subject is the stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, home to a whole bunch of petrochemical industrial sites that seem to function without supervision and in total disregard for the environment.

The High -- commendably -- does not flinch from the subject of Misrach's work, calling it the "ecological degradation" of the section of the Mississippi River known affectionately residents of Louisiana as "Cancer Alley."

The High says, "Misrach’s work signals not just the environmental challenges facing the South but also the larger costs of our modern world at the dawn of the twenty first century."

The High is presenting twenty-one large scale images from Misrach's portfolio. If "large scale" here means work on Misrach's typical scale, these images will really be overwhelming in their impact.

This looks to be a stunning and disturbing show, with the scale of the images heightening the tension between the beauty and the ugliness of their subject matter. 

I'm sometimes skeptical of the High's Picturing the South series, with its tendency to bring in hired guns for the sake of bringing in hired guns.

This show, however,  makes sense to me as a powerful constellation of technique and unflinching vision. Sometimes, we need other people to show us what is going on around here.

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