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.