Sunday, June 17, 2012

Brief Vacation

I'm taking a brief break from Southern photography to visit another land where the cuisine is based on rice, cornmeal, tomatoes, pork, and chicken.

Y'all take care. See you after the 4th of July. JNW

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Photography Shows Open at the High Museum in Atlanta

The High Museum of Art  in Atlanta has three major photography shows up at the moment.

Two of them, representing the work of four photographers, are from the High's ongoing Picturing the South series of commissioned portfolios.

The third show,  Picturing New York, offers over 150 images from the extensive photography collection of  the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, and is the latest in a series of shows up in Atlanta as part of the High's partnership with MoMA.

This show should be an important one, since MoMA has been a major and influential collector of photographs for a long time, but since NYC is Not Around Here, we will say it is surely a worthwhile show, and we commend it to you, and leave the matter at that.

Except to say that the High insists on giving Picturing New York top billing over Picturing the South, which shows bodies of work the High has commissioned about our Native Region, and even paid for.

If you don't believe me, go here. And go figure.

One would think that a show of photographs about the South would be a bigger draw in Atlanta than a show about NYC, but not from the High's point of view. They do say, however, that Pictures from New York tells us about a traditional Southern concern, albeit situated several hundred miles northward.

That is, of course, the question of home, and of those "idiosyncratic details that define New Yorkers' sense of home."

This show, like Picturing the South, opened June 9th and is up through September 22, 2012, coming down just in time not to be on the walls for Atlanta Celebrates Photography, another great programming decision from the folks at the high.

The most important show among those that do feature photographs of the South is the Richard Misrach show that opened on June 2nd and is up through October 7th.

Misrach is one of America's most significant photographers right now, and his images of the devastation wreaked on the landscape of Louisiana by the chemical industry are haunting and compelling.

Louisiana, like many Southern states, has been willing to sell its soul to industry for the sake of jobs, regardless of the environmental cost or the cost in human misery. Misrach's images help us keep track of that cost.

Misrach's show, like the work in the Picturing the South show, was funded by the High as part of its ongoing series of commissions to build its collection of work about the South from major photographers.

Misrach has been working on this portfolio for some time, and its good finally to have it on the walls at the High.

The show called Picturing the South features the work of three photographers, England's Martin Parr, New York's Shane Lavalette, and  New York's Kael Alford, who were commissioned this year by the High for work on the South.

You can see a good bit of this work on the CNN blog, with Parr here, Lavalette here, and Alford here.

There is a video about Martin Parr at work on his project, here.

Based on the CNN images, I'd say that Parr flew in, made Martin Parr-like images on a stroll down Peachtree, and flew back to London for his next shoot, and his next pay check.

Which is OK, I guess. After all, a shooter's gotta get paid. 

Lavalette says he was inspired by Southern music to make his work, though he sought "to explore the relationship between traditional music and the contemporary landscape through a more poetic lens" than presumably a more documentary lens. He chose to "let the music itself carry the pictures."

Alford's work represents a homecoming for her, and a respite from the war photography that has engaged her in recent years.

Her ancestors lived on the Louisiana coastline she now photographs (see image above), and her 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.

All this work makes Atlanta a great place to get to in the coming months. I hope to make it, myself. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Roger May Photographs a Strange Old Man

Cary, NC-based photographer Roger May recently found a strange old man in a bar on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC, and made this photograph.

Roger is better known as a photographer of Appalachia, as a philosopher of photography,  and as the author of the very fine blog Walk Your Camera, in which this photograph first appeared.

We trust that this image will not irremediably damage Roger's career as a photographer.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Southern History and Photography Turn Kitsch in New York City

Christine Calabro is a curator at an online art gallery based in New York City called Artspace, and she is getting married.

Artspace has devoted one of its email messages to her, and especially to her wedding plans.

You can see the original entry here.

The connection is that in the message she provides us with a list of her 10 favorite photographs available through Artspace, ostensibly because she thinks they would make great wedding presents.

So, this is sort of a bridal registry for the artfully inclined.

Her is what she says: "There is no more timeless gift to give or receive than a work of art, a special piece that will richen (sic) in meaning with time and intimate engagement, just like love.

"With my own wedding approaching at the end of this month, I’ve assembled a collection of elegant works on Artspace that I would truly enjoy living around. (Hint, hint.)"

Interestingly, one of Christine's favorites is Walker Evans' iconic image, above, of the Breakfast Room at Belle Grove Plantation, built by John Andrews, a wealthy sugar planter, near White Castle in Iberville Parish, Louisiana.

Belle Grove Plantation had 75 rooms spread over 4 floors, an act of Southern planter hubris. It was finished in 1857, just in time for the Civil War and the collapse of the plantation economy. It sat vacant after 1925 and was finally destroyed by fire in 1957.

Clarence Laughlin, in his Ghosts along the Mississippi,  described Belle Grove as a "tremendous mass [that] rose on huge brick foundation arches over twelve feet above the surrounding earth, its walls and mantels were plastered and carved by the most expert European craftsmen money could secure, its great flight of brick steps was covered with imported marble, its door knobs and keyhole guards were of silver, its pillars bore Corinthian capitals six feet high but of the utmost refinement."

Evans visited Belle Grove in 1935, just in time to catch a sense of the emptiness of Southern antebellum vanity and arrogance that a society built on human bondage could flourish and endure.

Well, Calabro loves "the timeless quality of this photograph." To her, and with no trace of history or irony in her language, "this photograph shows a once-grand private mansion that was left derelict to age at the mercy of the elements." 

She believes this photograph is a "truly classic piece reminiscent of the home in Yonkers where we will get married."

I wonder if that home in Yonkers was build with slave labor, like Belle Grove.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Reports from Look3, UPDATED

Here are some links to reports from Look3, for those of us who cannot be there in person.

From the New York Times,  about photography collectives on view at Look3, including Luceo Images, based in our part of the country.  More on them, from the Times, here.

From Lightbox.

From the local papers and the local TV Station.


From PhotoShelter.

From BagNotes.

Follow on Twitter, here.

And FaceBook, here.

Oh, to be under the trees in downtown Charlottesville, and reveling in the riches of photography!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Slow Exposures Submission Deadline Fast Approaching

Slow Exposures is the annual juried show of photography with the intent, as they say, of "exploring the diversity, contradictions, and complexity of today's rural South." It will be up this year from September 21-30, 2012 in Pike County, at the R.F. Strickland Center in Concord, GA,one hour south of Atlanta.

Slow Exposures is in its tenth year, and it is a labor of love by Chris Curry and by Nancy McCrary, Editor of SXSE, the online photography magazine of the American Southeast.

Slow Exposures is a photography show, but its far more than that. Its a festival in its own right, with a portfolio review and other activities, including a party at Chris's farm outside Griffin, GA, to which everyone who submits work for the show is invited. Not to mention the Slow Exposures Ball, yes a black tie Ball, satellite photography shows, and the list goes on.

Here's a New Yorker story from a couple of years ago that gets this event just about right. 

Chris and Nancy -- and Slow Exposures -- are at the heart of so much that is good that is going on in photography in the South right now.  They really know how to express true Southern hospitality, how to throw a great party, how to organize a strong show, and how to carry all this off with great style, poise, and graciousness.

The 2012 jurors are Brett Abbott, Photography Curator of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and Julian Cox, former Curator of Photography at the High and Founding Curator of Photography of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 

The entry deadline is midnight on June 15th. You really want to be part of this event.

For the complete call for entries or to enter online, please visit the website at and select the Call for Entries 2012 link.

Susan Worsham on Fototazo

Richmond, VA-based photographer Susan Worsham is featured today on the blog fototazo with some images and a discussion of how her photography has come to be about her desire to look deeper into the landscape of her childhood, a familiar, and often productive, approach for a Southern artist.

Susan's new portfolio is called Frogs Blood and Spinal Cord, and it is difficult, but powerful work.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jerry Siegel at the Julie Collins Smith Museum

Alabama-based photographer Jerry Siegel has just opened a show of his portraits of Southern artists at the Julie Collins Smith Museum at Auburn University.

The show is called Facing South: Portraits of Southern Artists. This show opened last Saturday, June 2nd, and is up through August 18th, 2012.

The museum describes the show, and Jerry's work, this way:

"Jerry Siegel's photographic portraits of southern visual artists compose a highly personal survey of some of the most interesting inhabitants of our region.

"An Alabama native, Siegel has spent the last 17 years traveling the area to capture the likenesses of both well-known and emerging artists in their familiar settings.

"Facing South assembles 100 black-and-white and color portraits of Siegel's subjects, including Benny Andrews, Radcliffe Bailey, William Christenberry, Lamar Dodd, Ida Kohlmeyer, Charlie Lucas, Charles Shannon, and Kathryn Windham.

"Expressive, intimate, and evocative, Siegel's body of work offers sensitive insights into the region's creative soul."

The Museum is doing this right by hosting a show of work by artists included in Jerry's portrait show at the same time as Jerry's show.

This show is called  Southern Artists / Southern Art?: Selected Works by Artists Featured in Facing South. It opened on May 12th and will be up through August 11th, 2012.

Jerry has published a large collection of his portraits in a book called Facing South: Portraits of Southern Artists from the University of Alabama Press, available from them, or from Amazon, here.

My copy is on order; I want to see the range of Jerry's work, and also to read the accompanying essays, especially one by Dennis Harper on "the regional countenance reflected in Siegel’s portraits." I'm intrigued by the concept of a regional countenance -- looking forward to finding out what a Southern artist really looks like.

Jerry has been very gracious to me. When John Menapace, the dean of North Carolina fine art photographers died in 2010, Jerry sent me some images of John that he had just made in one of his periodic forays across the South, to share with readers of this blog.

And I know that Jerry continues his work on this project. He met and photographed my colleague Elaine Orr at an artists' workshop earlier this summer.

Thanks to Jerry for his fine work, and congratulations on this well-deserved recognition of his accomplishments.

Wish I could make the show in Alabama, but I will enjoy the book.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stacy Kranitz is Having a Wonderful Year

Fresh from her controversy with CNN about editing her work, and the extensive and significant conversations about conventions of depiction and the role of the photographer in control and interpretation of her work, Stacy Kranitz has gone on to greater glory.

She is featured in the online photo ezine One: One Thousand for June with not one but two portfolios of work made in the South, Old Regular Mountain, images made in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennesse, and Don't Drop the Potato, images made in Louisiana.

Even though she was born in Kentucky and has worked extensively in the South, Kranitz is, as they say,  No Longer From Around Here. She was educated as a photographer in New York, and now lives and works in Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, as the editors of One: One Thousand point out, she has made several significant portfolios of work in the South, exploring, as they say, "regions of the American South often the target of negative cultural preconceptions.

"Kranitz's dialectical photographic method attempts to present balance through the confrontation of both regional stereotypes and nuances."

These comments foreground Kranitz' photographic method, which she expands on in her Artist's Statement.

Thinking of photography as "representing place," she finds representation to be "a complicated series of negotiations," seeking to "demystify stereotypes, sum up experience, interpret memory and history."

Here, she introduces the concept of "regression to the mean," a term from statistical analysis, where "If a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement."

"This concept," Kranitz writes, "outlines my process, which requires many visits in order to gain a photographic series of images that averages these extremes. I am initially drawn to stereotypes. Then I look to demystify these stereotypes only to find that they are rooted in some sort of reality. I do not exclude the stereotypical image from my representations, nor do I only seek it out. The resulting images are a regression to the mean and the mean is interwoven with both typical and atypical lives captured through controlled and chance operations.

"Nothing is all one thing or its opposite. There are moments in time that you see a degree of continuity between these opposing forces. Ultimately the term Regression to the Mean articulates the flaws of representation. Flaws which I openly embrace."

Kranitz' images are the result of her practice of this process. They are strong images, at least to this viewer.

They offer us images familiar to Southerners:

Images familiar but haunting and disturbing still:

And images like this one, of two women, fully dressed, who for no apparent reason have decided to wade in a river in the dark and have their picture made:

Someone once said that the work of the artist is to estrange us from the familiar. I wonder if some of the reaction to Kranitz' work after the CNN episode had to do with whether the subject matter of the work is strange or familiar to start with, in other words, whether the cultural situatedness of the viewer has consequences for the viewer's response to the work.

I find the photograph of the Klan rally, above, familiar, in a sense. I've never been to one of these, but I know they go on, and sort of what they must look like, and that is a source of pain and sadness for me as a Southerner. The strangeness, for me, of this image comes from my effort to imagine why people ever did this, much less why they do it now. I wonder if for a non-Southerner there would be a different response.

Here's an idea for consideration, however. My guess is, many Southern artists who might make images that are similar in approach or result to this work by Kranitz would not talk about their work in the terms Kranitz does.

Kranitz talks in terms of ideas, of stereotypes and regression, and of "degrees of continuity between . . . opposing forces." To her, to at least some degree, the Southern setting of her work is an opportunity to explore ideas, to make work that expresses concepts.

In my experience, Southern artists often talk about their work in terms of stories, and their art is about making meaning out of their experience as Southerners.

Susan Worsham photographs her home town, and her neighbors, " the rediscovered paths of my childhood home." Kathleen Robbins photographs her grandparents' house, and their possessions, and the Delta landscape around it, while living in the house. Susan Harbage Page photographs people in Klan hoods made of bright floral print fabric to recall and to unsettle and to remind us of the South's troubled history, and of its unfinished business.

I'm not talking better or worse here, or the strengths or weaknesses of conceptual approaches to making art, but something I have noticed among academic colleagues from different parts of the country. To many Southern artists, at least of a certain age, the agenda of their art is about making meaning out of their own experience of being Southern.

Kranitz' work is strong work. In fact, when the High Museum is looking for another photographer to commission to make work in the South, I'd suggest she's their person, and the work is ready for delivery. But I think she views the South with a different agenda than many Southerner artists bring to theirs.

Just sayin'.

Monday, June 4, 2012

LOOK3 This Weekend!

The Look3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, VA will be held this weekend, running June 7th - 9th of this year.

This is a terrific event that grows bigger and better every year. There will be shows, talks, critiques, workshops, and all the rest, in scenic downtown Charlottesville.

Photographers featured this year include Alex Webb, Donna Ferrato, Stanley Greene, David Doubilet, Lynsey Addario, Bruce Gilden. Hank Willis Thomas, Camille Seaman, Robin Schwartz, Ernesto Bazan, and Chris Boot.

There is a great story about Look3, here, with lots of pictures from past festivals. 

The FULL SCHEDULE is here. Tickets are available here

I'm really sorry not to make this year's event, but look forward to hearing all about it.