Thursday, February 19, 2015

Solé, Thibodeaux, Eich -- Three Photographers on the Delta

Three Southern photographers are getting noticed at the moment for their work in the Mississippi Delta.

The Griffin Museum of Photography, at  67 Shore Road, in Winchester, Massachusetts, has up now, through March 1st, 2015, a two-person show featuring the work of Honorary Southern Photographer Magdalena Solé (see image directly above)  and Dallas-based photographer Brandon Thibodeaux (see image directly below).


Solé has been working in the Delta for a good while now, and the work on display at the Griffin Museum is from her New Delta Rising portfolio, published by the University Press of Mississippi.

For more on her book, go here.

Thibodeaux is a newer hand at working in the Delta, but he, too, has gotten very positive responses to his work, including being named recipient of a grant from the Michael P. Smith Fund for Documentary Photography in 2014. We reported this here, here, here, and here

The work on display at the Griffin Museum is from his portfolio When Morning Comes

Also being recognized for his work in the Delta is Norfolk-based photographer Matt Eich (see image at the top of this post, as well as below) whose portfolio Sin and Salvation in Baptist Town has recently been featured in the on-line magazine burn.

Eich says that his goal in this body of work is to explore, in Greenwood, MS,  "a complex intersection of issues that span race, class, joblessness, opportunity, housing, education and segregation."

Eich recognizes that his work brings up perennial questions about photographer and audience for his work, questions especially pertinent for photographers working in the Delta, where a large percentage of the population is poor and black, and a large percentage of the audience for Eich's work is white and economically at least comfortably well-off. 

 As a result of his recognition that his work risks exploitation of his subjects, Eich says he began making "collaborative portraits."

"In this work,"  Eich says, "I begin to blend these different representations of place with an emphasis on creating work that is less about my perspective as an outsider, and more about how the people I am photographing wish to be portrayed."

Eich also seeks to make his work visible in the  community of Greenwood itself, not just on-line and in galleries remote from the world of his subjects. 

"These collaborative portraits will become the basis of a public exhibition," Eich promises, "intended to create a safe space for dialogue about present race relations in Greenwood. I will partner with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation to facilitate an open dialogue. The work will also live on a website where the community can upload their own text and images, thereby shaping the outcome of their story."

Eich also has larger goals:

"Additionally, I will collaborate with high school students from three different schools to teach children photography as a form of self-expression. These images made by students and other community-contributed content will become a part of the larger project, empowering the residents of Greenwood to portray themselves and their community from an insider view, to show a more balanced and nuanced perspective about life in this often stereotyped corner of America."
Eich's goal is to "engage a historically divided community in a dialogue about present race-relations in the American South by minimizing my voice and presence while allowing the community to take the helm. 

"We must acknowledge that the legacies of racism and segregation continue to impact people throughout our country economically and culturally, in persistent and often pernicious ways."

Eich's efforts to engage the community, not just document it, points toward a new paradigm for working with communities of folks often different in class, race, or background from either the photographer or the photographer's most likely audience. 

His images honor their subjects; his efforts to give back, to empower, to enable his subjects to engage in photography not just as passive subjects but as active image-makers, gives people opportunities to make their own meaning of their lives, not simply make themselves available for someone else to make meaning for them, or to make work for himself, simply to further his own career.

I think Eich is definitely on to something here, and wish him well. This might well turn out to be a way forward for Southern photographers whose work is primarily documentary. 

I plan to keep up with the progress of Eich's career, and to report back. Watch this space!

In fact, we can help. In addition to all this, Eich is having a print sale of prints he has featured on Instagram, $100 for a 10x10 print of any of his Instagram images, to fund a new car so he can keep making his work, and enabling others to make theirs.

For more information on that, go here.

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