NYC-based photographer Gillian Laub is having a show of work from her Southern Rites portfolio at the Benrubi Gallery in Manhattan, up now through June 27th, 2015.
This is deeply significant work, the result of twelve years of effort on Laub's part to document the ways in which longstanding issues of race, equality, and the uncertain path toward the integration of public education in the American South have played out in Montgomery County, Georgia.
This project builds on Laub's earlier project A Prom Divided, published in the New York Times Magazine in May of 2009.
That piece documented Montgomery County High School’s practice of holding racially segregated homecoming celebrations and high school proms over 50 years after the Supreme Court's order to integrate public education.
The attention that Laub’s photographs brought to the Montgomery County school system led to several positive developments, including the integration of the high school's prom and an effort to elect the county's first African American sheriff.
Unfortunately, this sense of progress was complicated by the murder of a young black man -- featured in Laub's earlier portfolio -- by an older white man who, at least at the time of the events documented in Laub's work, remained at large. .
The folks at Benrubi Gallery capture the heart of this work, thus:
"Through her intimate portraits and first-hand testimony, Laub reveals in vivid color the horror and humanity of these complex, intertwined narratives.
"The photographer’s inimitable sensibility—it is the essence and emotional truth of the singular person in front of her lens that matters most—ensures that, however elevated the ideas and themes may be, her pictures remain studies of individuals [and provide] a chronicle of their courage in the face of injustice, of their suffering and redemption, possessing an unsettling power."
For those of us who cannot get to the Benrubi Gallery while Laub's work is on display, her work also appears in a new book also entitled Southern Rites, available here.
Laub has also directed a documentary film, also called Southern Rites: What Changes and What Remains, now showing on HBO.
You can see the trailer for Southern Rites here:
You can watch the documentary itself, here.
You can find much more about Laub, and all the facets of the Southern Rites project, here, on its own website.
I agree fully with the folks at the Benrubi Gallery that this "film, book, and exhibition constitute a major cultural and artistic achievement by one of the most daring, wide-ranging photographers at work today."
Gilian Laub has certainly earned the right to be considered an Honorary Southern Photographer.