Santa Cruz, California-based photographer Terri Garland and Nashville, Tennessee-based photographer Tamara Reynolds offer compelling portfolios of their work in the July issue of One: One Thousand, the online magazine of Southern photography.
Both photographers use the resources of the photographer's craft to engage head-on the enigmas and contradictions central to Southern history and social and cultural identity. In the process, they make work that is both intensely personal and powerfully insightful.
One of the intriguing things about both these portfolios is their deeply personal character.
Garland (see images above and below), although she lives and teaches in California, defines her artistic career as specializing in "photographing the social and cultural fabric of the American South." That's a remarkable level of focus and commitment.
Reynolds pursues a career as a commercial photographer, but she clearly devotes a great deal of time and energy to her fine art work, describing it in terms of deeply personal engagement, as "about resolving conflicted feelings," about "compassion," "acceptance," and "courage."
I'm going to quote these photographers' statements at length in this piece and show some of their images. I admire what they are doing, and feel the need to get out of the way so they can speak for themselves.
Garland says she is concerned with exploring myth, exploring the signs and symbols in which we as Southerners express understandings that both . Her triptychs juxtapose images of the land, of religion, of the people in ways that set up haunting conversations.
Here is what she says:
"Most regions have either embraced or been assigned their own distinct mythologies. Comprised of historical fact, folklore, and assumptions that are frequently romanticized, these elements combine to shape and color our perceptions of a particular area. The South bares its contradictions perhaps better than most regions. For many years, I have been drawn to investigate and pursue with curiosity the social landscape of the southern states with an emphasis on photographing the signs and symbols of ethnocentricity as manifested in white supremacist ideology. While many of these pictures were solidly situated within the documentary tradition, my greater interest lay in revealing the fragile, often invisible, thread of humanity that connects us all, despite the fear of difference.
"In early 2010, I began to assemble triptychs from photographs made in the Delta from 2007 to the present time. With a genesis born from various writing projects, I have been drawn to make narrative sequences that embrace my interests in the dualities of life and death, desire and constraint, and the secular and the sacred. I include the look of place, the color of skin and the nagging issues of cultural separation that sometimes scream and sometimes relax and dissolve.
"The pictures were always made as singular images; my decision to combine some into triptychs occurred later, back at home where I would work to visually recreate a particular memory of my experience. Some of the groupings, especially those comprised of three horizontals, remind me of the vast flatness of the Delta that one sees through the windshield of one's car while driving — less like panoramas (although they are long) — but more so a combination of things seen and contemplated, the droning sound of the inescapable heat and the fears and delights that can be encountered on lonely country roads."
Reynolds (see image above and images below) talks about her work as a photographer specifically in terms of addressing personal issues about her identity as a Southerner.
"This project is about resolving my conflicted feelings I've experienced as a Southerner. I love the South, but I have sometimes been embarrassed to claim it as my home. I chose to explore the South on back roads, across railroad tracks, into hollows. In so doing, I found I could appreciate my home despite its failings.
"Born in the South in 1960, I was undoubtedly affected by one of the momentous and impassioned periods of the country's Southern history. Contradictions were everywhere. There were too many unanswered questions, confusing arguments and mixed messages for a young child to comprehend and reason. There were deep chasms that divided black from white, rich from poor, neighbor from neighbor. We were a region riven with extremes and the bearers of a cultural isolation that sometimes pronounced itself with self-righteous pride and a willful rebelliousness.
"The South alone carries the burden of having fought for and been completely defeated before relinquishing a way of life so rich but yet so ugly it nearly divided the country. On one hand, I have admiration for Southern courage and perseverance while it courageously fought against a tremendous social and financial transformation while paying an enormous price; on the other, I feel ashamed by its cowardly and stubborn justification of a social system based on abuse and inequality.
"I cringe at how the country has stereotyped the South as hillbilly, religious fanatic, and racist. Although there is evidence of it, I have also learned that there is a restrained dignity, a generous affection, an infectious humor, a trusting nature, and a loyalty to family that Southerners possess intrinsically. We are a singular place, rich in culture, strong through adversity. We are a people that have persevered under the judgment of the rest of the world. Ridiculed, we trudge carrying the sins of the country seemingly alone.
"There is more to be revealed under the surface of things. Like kudzu, things may appear different from above than what lies beneath. While questioning my appreciation of the South, I found the beauty that is within. And through compassion I have come to accept."
Garland and Reynolds address here the most basic concerns about making meaning out of the contradictions and challenges of life in the contemporary South.
My thanks to them for their work, and to the folks at One: One Thousand for bringing it to us.