Friday, April 27, 2012

Shane Lavalette Photographs the American South -- Updated

New York-based photographer Shane Lavalette joins Martin Parr and Kael Alford as photographers commissioned this year by the folks at the  High Museum of Art in Atlanta to make a portfolio of work in the American South.

This project is the latest redaction of the High's ongoing series of commissions to bring distinguished contemporary photographers to the South to make work for the High's photography collections.

The group show of their work will be up at the High from June 9th through September 2nd, 2012, under the title Picturing the South.

If I were one of these folks, however, I would be more than a bit miffed at the High right now, because the High has chosen to show their work in tandem with another photography show called Picturing New York, a show of 150 photographs from the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and including work by All The Usual Subjects.

You know, Berenice Abbot, Walker Evans, Harry Callahan, Diane Arbus, etc, etc, etc.

Further, the High's publicity for this pairing privileges the New York crowd over Lavalette, Parr, and Alford.

If you don't believe me, go here to have a look at how they promote these tandem shows.

The New York work gets top billing, and by the way, while you are there, just in case you have a few more minutes in your busy Atlanta day, you might stop into the next gallery, because  "Also on view is Picturing the South, a fascinating look at new work . . ."

Ouch! "A fascinating look"? Who wants to be fascinating? And why are they closing this show before Atlanta Celebrates Photography (ACP) opens in October?

In the case of Lavalette's work, of course, all the questions we raised earlier about Martin Parr's work also come into play.

Is this work an exercise in personal style, done to fulfill a commission? Or does it show us something about this artist's growth as an artist? Do we stop with the play of light over surfaces, or is there depth to the images? Does it actually make a difference for the work that it was made in the American South?

Lavalette's images for this commission are beginning to come out, so you can reach your own conclusions, by going to CNN here

In addition, Lavalette is trying to do a book of this work, and he's enlisted Kickstarter to help him out. Go here for more details.

He has had the good fortune to get mentioned for this project in the London Daily Telegraph, here. 

He's also featured with this work on TIME's LightBox  And on Kickstarter's Tumblr, here.

At the least, the High has given us a great deal to ponder -- about photography, about the South, and about the state of  our aesthetic self-regard, here, today, in what a friend told me yesterday we should refer to as the Postsouthern South.


  1. Hey John, good points and valuable questions here.

    I felt welcomed and at home in the places I photographed for my project. I spent most of the Summer of 2010 living out my car and staying with kind folks. I miss it, really grew to love the places I photographed and the people I got to know. You've wrote in another piece on your site, "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." I hope this rings true for my own work. I certainly felt that way.

    As for the High's website, I gather they are working on a new landing page for Picturing the South. Also, though it's shown at the same time as Picturing New York, the I think exhibition will have a lot of space and be very much it's own experience.

    Hope you enjoy it. Looking forward to spending time with Kael's work myself.

    Thanks for the mention of my Kickstarter project, I really appreciate that. I'll need a lot of support from this community to make it a success!

    Looking forward to meeting at some point,

  2. Shane, thanks so much, and good to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed your Time in the South.

    I hope you are right about how things go with the High. Just make sure the check clears.

    I'm disappointed especially that your show comes down before ACP opens. Anything you can do to change that? JNW