Thursday, April 30, 2015

Southern Photographers in AINT-BAD Magazine

AINT-BAD Magazine was founded in Savannah, GA in 2011 and has quickly become a significant outlet for contemporary photography.

The editors feature work that helps to "make sense of culture, politics, and history" by contributing to "an ever-more urgent, critical conversation about the human condition by way of thought provoking imagery."

As the editors say, they seek to publish "fresh photography and text in support of a progressive community of artists from around the world for our printed publication, web-based forum, and periodic exhibitions and events."

The web-based forum features new material continuously, but the print version appears on a bi-annual basis. 

Photographers featured on the AINT-BAD website work all over the world, but there is, happily, a definite bias toward photographers working in the magazine's home region.

Indeed, Issue 8 (Fall 2014) of the print version was entitled "The American South," about which the editors declared: 

The American South is both a reality and a fiction, a conceptual and a cultural entity. As such, it has been famously challenged and perpetuated through photography in the form of singular iconic images in the work of photographers like William Eggleston and in the form of the photo-essay, bridging journalism and fine art as in the work of Walker Evans and James Agee.

Since the publication of that issue, a number of photographers working in the South have been featured in AINT-BAD, including  Little Rock, AR-based photographer Donna Pinkney (see image at the top of this blog post), with work from her  Soul Objects portfolio.

Also, Lexington, KY-based photographer Nicole White (See image above), Honoraray Southern Photographer Magdalena Solé, and Virginia Beach, VA-based photographer William Douglas (see image below).

Also, Wilmington, NC-based photographer Andrew Sherman (see image below).

And Raleigh, NC-based (but his heart is in West Virginia) Roger May (yes the Roger May of my last two blog posts -- he's truly having a year in the sun; see image below).  

And Charleston, SC-based photographer Alex Klaes (see image below).

In fact, along with photographers from across the USA and around the world, AINT-BAD Magazine features at least one photographer from the American South each month. 

AINT-BAD is joining a number of other photography journals we can depend on to bring us exceptionally fine photographers from the American South. 

Long may they all thrive!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

UPDATED -- On Photographing in Appalachia

Speaking of Roger May, he has gotten himself in the middle of a complex situation up in West Virginia.

It seems a commercial photographer named Marisha Camp and her brother, former MTV VJ Jessie Camp, were driving through West Virginia earlier this year, doing some photography along the way.  

Some folks in McDowell County, West Virginia, who were otherwise minding their own business, noticed these two folks with cameras, driving around in a car with Massachusetts license plates, and wondered what they were doing. 

The Camps and the inquisitive residents of McDowell County met at a gas station, and apparently things immediately got awkward. 

There are several sides to this story, and several versions of what actually happened, and you can read some of them here and here

Needless to say, accusations and explanations were exchanged, and expletives were used. 

A West Virginia State Trooper eventually showed up and escorted the Camps away from the gas station and out of McDowell County. 

The conversation about this event has continued on the various social media. 

Roger May got involved when Photo District News asked him to look into the matter, since he is, all at once, a native of West Virginia, a fine photographer, and the moving force behind Looking at Appalachia, a project that intends to get more photographers working in West Virginia, making photographs that give a fuller, richer, and more nuanced view of his native state to the larger world.

I'm sure when he heard about this, he had a fit of apoplexy. After all, here is a guy who is hard at work trying through photography to bring to a larger audience a more nuanced, more truthful understanding of the good folks in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia.

Now, all of a sudden, some photographers show up in West Virginia but they go about their work in a way that results on some of the folks in West Virginia behaving in ways that reinforce the exact stereotypes of provincialism, insularity, and hostility toward outsiders (Massachusetts license plates? Gotta run them off!) that May is working so hard to refute.

May got in touch with all the relevant parties. His take on the incident, a long essay with the title "Why a Confrontation Between Photographers and Locals Turned Ugly in Appalachia," is available on the PDN website, here.

May's piece is reasoned, thoughtful, fair to all sides, just what you would expect from him. But, if the extensive -- and often heated -- discussion provoked by his essay on the PDN website is any indication, the conversation about this incident is far from over. 

Nor should it be.  

This incident reveals significant -- and difficult -- questions about regional identity and cultural difference in America, as well as about the practice of photography, with its issues of audience and intent and the ethics of representation, not to mention the ongoing discussions of privacy and artistic freedom in the brave new world of the Internet and social media. 

May reports that the folks in West Virginia claim they were worried about the Camps' photographing their children without parental permission, a concern that touches somewhat on our previous notice of what made Sally Mann's photographs of her children so controversial.

There are way too many issues here to untangle in the space of a blog post. These are issues that are not new to photography in the American South, which for a long time has served as the go-to place for satisfying America's hunger for eccentricity as well as its interest in the consequences of poverty, racism, and economic exploitation. 

For now, however, a few thoughts -- 

As Southern photographers, we live in multiple communities, some of which do not share the values and interests of the others.

We make work as our interests compel and our skills enable us, but the primary audiences for our work are people who are culturally aware and sufficiently successful to frequent museums and galleries. Many of these folks could easily be as at home in New York or London or Paris as they are in Atlanta or Nashville or New Orleans. 

As photographers, we need the freedom provided by the laws about privacy to practice our craft. The law is pretty clear for fine art photography that people outside their own homes and in the public arena do not have a privacy right that trumps our rights as photographers to make photographs of them.

On the other hand, as a photographer, I do not believe in drive-by photography. I believe in photographing people, but I also believe in not photographing people who indicate their discomfort with being photographed.  

I believe in patient engagement with the people who interest me as a photographer, and in development of respectful relationships, in which the work that emerges is as much a collaboration between photographer and subject as it is the embodiment of a single artist's vision. 

So, for me, there are norms and standards of good practice. But people are different, and different groups of people have different understandings of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Even within largely homogeneous groups of people, some will react differently from others when engaging with photographers. 

Its too simple to say that the Camps behaved badly when photographing in West Virginia. Their behavior might well be perfectly acceptable in another place, with another group of people.

Its too simple to say that the folks in West Virginia who responded with hostility to their being photographed were out of bounds and lacking in Southern hospitality.

As Southerners, we are also part of communities for whom the public space of the community is an extension of folks' own sense of personal space. 

If you live in a small town or rural area, and know everyone near you, and, most likely, their parents and grandparents, and their children and grandchildren, then the attention of someone Not From Around Here can feel disturbing.

Some will enjoy or be honored by the attention that being photographed can bring. And some will not. The attention that a photographer can bring to someone not at home in a larger world, perhaps not even all that much at home in his or her own skin, can feel like a violation.

The attention that a photographer can bring to someone from people of differing economic or social or racial backgrounds is, at the least, ethically complex. 

We are dealing here not with rights and wrongs as much as with competing, and sometimes conflicting goods. 

There is no clear way forward. Sometimes, the best we can do is to practice reflectively, hopeful that, as in the incident in West Virginia, when conflict comes no one gets hurt, we can find a successful way out, and we can live to photograph another day.  


Roger May has identified a very thoughtful discussion on The Fader blog with  Chicago-based photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier on the question of the ethics of privilege in photography when there is an economic or cultural disparity between photographer and subject. 

Frazier notes the importance for her own photography of people like Gordon Parks, who, through photography, saw himself as "fighting all the things he didn’t like about America: poverty, racism, and discrimination." 

Frazier says that photographers need to collaborate with their subjects. 

"The number one thing is to listen," Frazier says. 

"Spend time with people before you ever even pull out a camera. Ask people what they need.

"It could be just as simple as asking someone to pick a place: how do they want to present themselves? 

"Make yourself available and supply your services and your skills and your techniques to someone else, so you can use your talents as a platform for their voice and representation."

That's first-class advice for anyone who picks up a camera. 

Frazier so consistently, deliberately, and thoughtfully engages issues of race, class, and culture in her work that I believe she deserves to be regarded as an Honorary Southern Photographer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Roger May -- Looking at Appalachia

Raleigh-based photographer Roger May (see image above) has been working for several years on a project to reconsider the photography of Appalachia.

To do this, he created the website Looking at Appalachia and invited photographers across the Appalachian region to join him in creating an archive of images that explores, in May's words, "the diversity of Appalachia" in the early decades of the 21st century."

May is concerned that Lyndon Johnson's sponsorship of what came to be called a War on Poverty brought lots of press attention to the mountainous regions of the eastern United States, as a result of which lots of photographs were taken of people and places in this area.

In May's view, this body of work has created a visual definition of Appalachia which perpetuates the image of this region of the USA as impoverished, its citizens poorly educated, inadequately housed, and, perhaps worst of all, annoyingly eccentric in dress, looks, attitudes, and behavior. 

May set out, fifty years after the declaration of the War on Poverty, to "establish a visual counter point" to the image of Appalachia created by photographers documenting the War on Poverty, a "reference that is defined by its people as opposed to political legislation."

To do this, May created an organizational structure and set up an Editorial Board and an Advisory Board, consisting of distinguished photographers and writers (full list here). 

He then invited submissions of work. The response he has received has been substantial, including images made by over a hundred photographers in the past year alone.

The current list of contributors is here, with links to their images. 
Participating photographers include well-known shooters like Shelby Lee Adams (see image second above), Rob Amberg (see image directly above), and Tamara Reynolds (see image below), as well as a host of folks whose work needs to be better known to all of us.

May's efforts have begun to attract wide-spread attention from public radio (interviews with WUNC's Frank Stasio here and with West Virginia Public Radio's Cecelia Mason, here) and, more recently, from National Geographic, here.

A selection of images from the archive is now available for installation and public exhibit. For details on arranging to host a show of this work, go here.

The first shows are now scheduled, with the very first opening of the Looking at Appalachia Exhibition coming up this month, on May 21st 2015, at the Spartanburg County Public Libraries Headquarters, 151 South Church Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina. 

This show will be up through June 26th, 2015. Sites already scheduled in 2016 include the Valade Gallery in the Shipman Library at Adrian College, in Adrian Michigan, up from January 2nd - February 7th,  2016 and Carnegie Hall, in Lewisburg, West Virginia up in May and June of 2016. 

To keep track of Looking at Appalachia's exhibition schedule, go here. 

May's efforts on behalf of photography in his native region are earning him well-deserved praise and thanksgiving. 

This is a truly noteworthy project, one well worth keeping up with. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

UPDATED Sally Mann in the New York Times -- April 2015

Honored Southern photographer Sally Mann has had a long and distinguished career as a fine art photographer. 

Mann has exhibited and published widely, and has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Time Magazine named Mann "America's Best Photographer" in 2001. 

Mann has now written an autobiography called appropriately Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, available from May 12th, 2015, from Little, Brown. 

For a pre-publication review by Kat Kiernan of Hold Still, go here to Kiernan's Don't Take Pictures blog.

In the run-up to its release, the New York Times has published an excerpt from Mann's memoir in the NY Times Magazine for April 4th, 2015 with the title "The Cost of Sally Mann’s Exposure: What an artist captures, what a mother knows and what the public sees can be dangerously different things." 

In this essay, Mann discusses the complex reactions she evoked by the publication of her third book of photographs, Immediate Family, in 1992. 

Mann has photographed a wide range of subjects during her career, but none of her work has drawn the same degree of attention as this body of work. 

The subject of Mann's photographs in this portfolio were Mann's own children, photographed while they were young, engaged in typical children's activities, often in the nude.

Mann writes of her choice of subject matter in this portfolio:

"Out of a conviction that my lens should remain open to the full scope of their childhood, and with the willing, creative participation of everyone involved, I photographed their triumphs, confusion, harmony and isolation, as well as the hardships that tend to befall children — bruises, vomit, bloody noses, wet beds — all of it."

The reaction to Mann's work was strong, complex, and frequently hostile. Mann, unprepared for it, describes it in her essay as feeling "as though my soul had been exposed to critics who took pleasure in poking it with a stick."

Mann's work gained wide exposure because of an article, also in the New York Times Magazine, entitled "The Disturbing Photography of Sally Mann," by Richard B. Woodward

Mann remembers, "In my arrogance and certitude that everyone must see the work as I did, I left myself wide open to journalism’s greatest hazard: quotations lacking context or the sense of irony or self-­deprecating humor with which they were delivered."

Mann's work -- and the reaction to it -- reminds us that our response to art is our response, dependent to some extent on the context we bring to the work when we look at it, but ultimately deriving from within ourselves and ultimately revealing more about ourselves than it does about the work which evokes that response from within us.

Or, as KJ Dell'Antonia, in an essay on Mann's photography in the NY Times parenting blog, puts it:

"The emotion we draw from an image we know nothing about fools us into thinking we want to know more. 

"Instead of looking inside for that knowledge, as an artist hopes we will, we prefer to take the easier route and dig for less metaphorical truths. 

"Or maybe, and this is the risk, this is the fear, and supposedly no small part of the reaction the pictures provoke, maybe whatever is inside some few of us that the images touch is so ugly and unknowable that we want to destroy or possess the reality, or the illusion, behind their creation."

Such insights are good to have with us when we see work that we find challenging, disturbing, or upsetting. 

As part of the Times' coverage of Mann's work, the NY Times photographer LESLYE DAVIS (see image above) talks about the experience of photographing Mann in an essay entitled "A Lesson from Sally Mann: "Just Take the Picture," here.