Tuesday, July 24, 2012

All Things Summer, in the South -- at Rebekah Jacob Gallery

Charleston's Rebekah Jacob Gallery is having an online show of photographs, now up on the Gallery's website, entitled Summer in the South: An Online Exhibit of Photography. This body of work is available through August, 2012.

Like other gallery owners these days, Rebekah Jacob is seeking ways of combining the brick-and-mortar gallery with the display and marketing potential of the internet.

The show features work by Richard Sexton (see image below), Kendall Messick, Julia Cart, Jerry Siegel (see image above), and Ben Gately Williams.

The work Jacob has on offer in this show contrasts interestingly with the work in the show at Higher Pictures Gallery we discussed recently.

The work on offer in New York City is often about uniqueness in look, or informed by issues or ideas that sometimes seem remote from the actual images on offer, or concerned with questioning the nature of photography in relationship to other media or materials of expression in the visual arts.

Southern fine art photographers are often engaged in other concerns, like the look and feel of a place, the relationship between history and myth, the identities of those who are linked by, and separated from, each other by the peculiar burden of Southern history and the passion to make sense of it, by the obsession to understand oneself as an artist who lives with, and within, this history and this culture.

This is why, I think, Southern photographers are more likely today to function within the documentary tradition, broadly conceived, of photography, which is the tradition of bearing witness to what is being shown in the image.

If not the documentary tradition, then photographers operate in the tradition of seeing the world through cameras and techniques and processes that deliberately call attention to the act of seeing by placing between the subject and the viewer visible traces of the photographer's choices.

There is of course nothing about Southern history that is uniquely Southern. Issues of race and class and gender and the exploitation of people and the land are American issues. The South's role in the Civil War has in a way given the rest of the country a free ride in dealing with this history, and these issues.

Nevertheless, it does seem to have become the  challenge and the burden of Southern artists to make sense of this, to make meaning of this, or at least to say what this is that we are struggling with.

One can certainly talk in conceptual and theoretical ways about creating fairly traditional-looking images of traditional Southern subjects.

Stacy Kranitz, for example, discusses her work in Appalachia in terms of a theory of process:

"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."

More often, however, Southern photographers talk about their images in terms of their own histories with the place and their sense of Southern identity.

Kathleen Robbins, for example, talks about her photographs made in the Mississippi Delta in terms of her own story of her multigenerational family and its connections with the soil of the Delta. 

Susan Harbage Page photographs Klan costumes made of colorful fabric because of her sense that "To be Southern is to be irrevocably shaped by the rift of society along the line of “race” that defines American modernity."

So if there is a Southern identity, and a Southern way of making photographs, it is perhaps at least partially located in this kind of awareness and this kind of practice.

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. It's a pleasure to browse through the Jacob Gallery selection. For me, much of the pleasure comes from the feeling that I am looking at 'old friends' – that is, I have seen them all before, done by different photographers at different times. They are what AD Coleman calls "Well-Made Photographs." Certainly a safe selection for a southern gallery's summer selection and perhaps a bit of a counterbalance to their more adventuresome PHONEOGRAPHY exhibit.

    From where I sit, it is difficult to get a good feeling for what is going on in the art/photography world. My impression is that there is an awful lot of bickering and cynical criticism floating around. Digital has thrown the photo world into a tizzy and it seems like everybody is having a hissy-fit over everything that is being done.

    I do wish the Jacob Gallery had picked a different slide-show program for its online exhibit.. Every time one clicks on an image one has to hunt around for the 'next' button to click to move forward to the next one. There certainly are more user-friendly slide-show scripts out there.