Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kathleen Robbins at Rebekah Jacob Gallery

Columbia, SC-based photographer Kathleen Robbins is having a show of work from her Into the Flatland portfolio at the Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston, up now through September 8th, 2014.

This is exemplary work in the canon of Southern fine art photography, both for the methodology and for the results.

A great deal of photography today is driven by the concept, the organizing idea or linking detail behind a set of images. Often this approach to assembling a body of work produces significant, even powerful photographs.

All too often, however, the result of this approach is a set of banal images that are enlivened or given significance only when one knows the concept that motivates them.

Robbins' images are visually compelling, yet motivated by a concept that is deeply felt and profoundly personal, growing out of her recognition of the Mississippi Delta's significance for her personally and the South generally.

In 2001, having developed her skills as a photographer and an artist, Robbins immersed herself in the physical world of her childhood in the Mississippi Delta, or as she puts it, she moved back in, literally living in the spaces and among the material objects of her own, and her family's, history.

Robbins lived on  her family's farm,  "ate from my great-grandmother's china, drank from her crystal and slept in her bed."

She goes on: "At dusk I rocked on the porch and watched the blackbirds descend on the canebrake planted by my great-grandfather. Living on the farm I existed in a strange continuum. My family's history and their connection to this place were markedly present in my everyday experience.

"This is land that my family has inhabited for generations, and I am pulled to this place in a way that I am not able to fully articulate. It is not my nostalgia alone that creates this longing; it is that of my mother and my mother's mother."

Robbins' photographs emerge from her deep engagement with the landscape and the material culture of her ancestors.

Her work demonstrates the value of attending to Faulkner's claim that in the South the past isn't dead; it's not even past. As in Robbins' work, traces of the South's tangled history sit side-by-side in the landscape with all the signs of a more recent prosperity and cosmopolitanism.

This is especially true in Charleston, where visitors from around the world flock to the Spoleto arts festival, where high end restaurants like Husk and SNOB sit blocks from the building that housed for years one of the largest slave markets in the antebellum South.

So it's good to have Robbins' work up at Rebekah Jacob's Gallery, a perfect location for work that engages actively with the complex and paradoxical legacy shared by all of us who are Southern. 

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