Monday, November 30, 2015

Maude Schuyler Clay Celebrated in the New Yorker

Work from Greenwood, MS-based photographer Maude Schuyler Clay's portfolio Mississippi History has been celebrated by Richard Ford in The New Yorker's Photo Booth blog, go here.  

Ford says of Clay's images that they " are especially human—in their subject matter, and in the photographer’s insistence that we be moved by art to look closely, and that photographs are good when they are as complex as we are."

"History is largely what historians demonstrate it to be, and the photographer’s guiding thought, here, for how to portray history is no more a casual affair than is the character of each individual image."

To Ford, these images "bespeak the informality of life lived in a place

"They seem in their acute anecdotal particulars—a woman’s facial set, a man’s brimming eyes, a child’s posture of seeming indifference to the camera—to be the product of human relationships.

"In spite of their seductive informality, there is never a deflating sensation of the impromptu about these pictures, never a feeling of their subjects being casually caught, or of life being camera-stolen. 

"Instead, each image affects us as an enactment, a photographic performance.

"Informality, familiarity, and candor are transformed by this authority and persistence and deftness into an aesthetic quotient. 

"And these qualities spell out, as well, the work’s moral position: that to see humans more closely, more discerningly, is life-affirming and good."

Thanks to Ford for thoughtful meditations on Clay's work, and congratulations to Clay for earning this well-deserved recognition.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

South by Southeast Photo Magazine for Late Fall 2015

Nancy McCrary and all the fine folks at South X Southeast Photomagazine have released their second issue under the new, all-online format.

With the November/December issue for 2015, South by Southeast Photomagazine is all on the web, and on the new website, and entirely free.

Photographers whose work is featured in this issue include Marilyn Suriani (see image above), Beatrice Chauvin (see image below), and Simon Brann Thorpe (see image below Chauvin's).

And a whole bunch of other photographers, too numerous to mention, as well as all the interviews, book reviews, and other features we have come to expect of McCrary and her colleagues at SxSE.

This is not to be missed. Check it out today.

What a gift to us all, this SxSE publication!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Updated -- Beatrice Chauvin Reports From Paris

Honorary Southern Photographer Beatrice Chauvin lives in Paris when she is not photographing in the Mississippi Delta. 

The image of her above was taken during her show of work from her UNBROKEN portfolio at the BB King Museum in Indianola, MS, back in October. 

She now reports from Paris that she is fine, and has posted this statement on her Facebook page for her friends in the American South:

"I just saw in one of our biggest newspapers that "Les Français sont plongés dans l'effroi," meaning that we French people are scared to death after the attacks. 

"I am shocked to read such words, and I am writing these lines in English on purpose. 

"We are not scared to death-- yes we are worried, we are concerned, of course we are. 

"Our pain is big and the scars will take time for healing. 

"Behind our everyday life, our everyday gestures like getting up, making coffee, taking the metro and going to work, going to the "boulangerie" or chez le "boucher", making dinner, meeting friends-- behind all these gestures and behind our smiles, are tears. 

"It will last long. But we are brave and resistant and we carry on our lives, finding comfort in beautiful moments shared with our families, or watching a colored sunset on Notre -Dame, or listening to the peace of a garden in the early morning, or drinking a glass of wine with friends with baguette and cheese (Roquefort or Chèvre or Camembert).

"We must keep hoping. And we do."

Chauvin says she aspires to continue walking in the light by working on her new portfolio of Delta photographs, called Slivers of Luminescence.

This portfolio will include the images above, made during her most recent trip to the Delta. 

Good to hear about light in a dark time. To quote Leonard Cohen, there is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.

Shannon Johnstone's Landfill Dogs

Raleigh, NC-based photographer Shannon Johnstone has published her book Landfill Dogs, portraits of dogs who would make great pets but who are incarcerated in shelters and -- unless they are rescued -- are on the way to the landfill. 

This book documents the tragedy of the careless overpopulation of dogs that results from our thoughtless treatment of dogs as property, as well as celebrating the infinite variety of joyful dogginess. 

Johnstone loves dogs, and is a genius at capturing their spirit. This book is for dog lovers, and lovers of stunning images of our canine best friends.

You can get the book here. Ten dollars from the sale of every book goes to Have a Heart, a fund that provides treatment for heart worm disease to shelter dogs.

Blake Andrews on Fashions in Fine Art Photography Today

Blake Andrews is an Oregon-based photographer who has some interesting things to say about the state of fine art photography today on his blog, here.

I bring this up for us because many of the examples Andrews gives are of photography projects made in the American South.  

If you read this, and he's taking about you, you will know who you are:

Andrews writes:

"Male photographer ventures through a region with a camera, sometimes over the course of several months or years, in search of Americana. 

"The American West is a common target. Or the South. Or the North. Or Appalachia. Or whatever, so long as it has a mix of salt-of-the-earth types willing to stare broodingly into middle distance, forested vistas, access to an airport, and a strong whiff of pathos. 

"Maybe the photographer lives with the locals, or frequents their watering hole, or whatever it takes to develop access. Photographer returns home with a carefully calibrated mix of landscapes, portraits, and interiors shot on color film. 

"Usually the tool is a view camera, although a smaller body is allowed so long as it's a Mamiya 7.  The inkjet results are printed nice and big, mounted in the squared white frame du jour, no matting, with slightly desaturated color palette to match, then sent off on the exhibition circuit, where they present a statement about the place. 

"Or about America. Or a nostalgic nod to the industrial cycle. Or something."

Andrews calls this style doctrinicity, which he characterizes by its use of a "landscape/interior/portrait combination" in forming a sequence of images, achieving a "photo two-fer, a way of expressing inner ruminations under the guise of outer world documentation."

Work in this style, Andrews believes, reveals the photographer taking "on the role of scientific explorer. Go out, trap some images, report findings to the photo community in the prescribed mix."

The establishment of a style also suggests the creation of a prescription for doing this work -- a shot list, if you will, of images one must take, regardless of the setting, location, or situation. 

Andrews says that this approach to fine art photography can result in excellent work, not just a set of do-overs of other people's shots. 

Andrews' example of effective use of this approach is the work of Brooklyn-based photographer Thomas Gardiner (see images above, all of which could have been made in the American South, but probably weren't).

Andrews blames the popularity of this approach in fine art photography to the success of of Alex Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi, although one could think of a significant number of other predecessors, both for some of Gardiner's images and for the general quasi-documentary approach he takes to his subjects. 

Working from formulas is not necessarily a bad thing -- witness the beloved sonnets of Shakespeare, which repeat over and over forms, ideas, and verbal images well-known from the works of Petrarch and his followers. 

On the other hand, formulaic approaches to image-making call for subtlety, wit, creativity, and discipline to keep from becoming repetitive and boring.

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 16, 2015

UPDATED -- More News of Southern Photographers -- Fall 2015

Catching up with several items of note --

1. I missed the fact, somehow, that McNair Evans (see image above) had a show of work from his Confessions for a Son portfolio at the Sasha Wolf Gallery in NYC, up from late February until early April 2015.

Good to know that images of Laurinburg, NC were on the walls of a gallery in Manhattan. Its often good to get into town for a visit.

2. Honorary Southern Photographer Dawoud Bey has been named a USA Guttman Fellow in the United States Artists program, go here. 

3. Texas-based photographer Keith Carter (see image above) is opening a show of work from his Ghostland portfolio at the Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery in Houston, Texas,  on November 21st, go here. 

4. New Orleans-based photographer L. Kasimu Harris (see image above) has a show of work from his The 10 Year Journey: Reflections of Family, Identity and New Orleans portfolio, up now, through November 14th at the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African-American Art, in New Orleans.  

5. Atlanta-based photographer Debbie Fleming Caffrey (see image above) is having a show of work from her Alphabet portfolio at Jackson Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta, up now through November 28th, 2015. 

Also available at Jackson Fine Art are copies of Caffrey's book Alphabet, go here.

6. Raleigh-based photographer Diana Bloomfield (see image above) has work on the cover and inside the latest issue of Shadow and Light magazine, go here

More later, on The Southern Photographer.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Ayana V. Jackson and the Photographer's Gaze

The December 2015 issue of Photo District News (not on their website yet, but will update when they upload it) brings to our attention the photography of Ayana V Jackson, who was born in New Jersey, attended Spelman College in Atlanta, and now resides in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Based on what I've learned about Jackson's photography, its clear to me that she is an Honorary Southern Photographer, because her work brings to our attention significant questions about the practice of Southern photography.

Jackson's work challenges us to consider basic questions about who makes photographs in the South, and for whom, and what the consequences of those choices turn out to be.

Jackson recently had a show of her work at the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Seattle, which recognized in her photographs Jackson's desire to explore the response of African and African diaspora societies to the history of their depiction in photography.

Jackson's work, in the words of the Ibrahim Gallery, "combines honed technical skills with richly laced historical allusions to create hauntingly candid portraits that depict varying constructions of African and African-American identities."

Jackson's images are striking, arresting, challenging, absorbing, bringing us back over and over, as strong photographs do. 

More than that, however, they ask us to contemplate the consequences of the fact that most photographs of people of color have been taken by white photographers for mostly white audiences. 


Jackson is concerned, as Brienne Walsh puts it, in her PDN essay, "with reconstructing the history of black bodies as captured by white photographers and photojournalists throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries." 

This means that images of people of color made by white photographers -- even those made "to raise awareness," to document racism or oppression, or affirm our common humanity -- operate "within the colonial lexicon of 'otherness.'"

Jackson's images do not function in a simple world of binary opposition. Its not that images of people of color made by people of color are simply "better" than images of people of color made by white photographers.

Jackson is instead interested in the consequences of work by white photographers in constructing images of, and therefore, value judgements about, people of color.
To explore this, Jackson re-stages historic photographs of people of color, such as the one at the top of this blog post, which recreates one of the many surviving photographs of a person of color being lynched, somewhere in the American South. 

Another example of Jackson's rephotographing practice is the her recreation of the photograph directly above, of an image made in Africa in the 1890's of a fully clothed Alice Seeley Harris, an English missionary, surrounded by a group of semi-nude Congolese children. 

Jackson's  re-staged image is below; Jackson says, of the original, that "This was one of the first images a European may have ever seem of an African body. Look at how the missionary is clothed, and the 'savages' are unclothed."

Now, she says, "Look at my image, and tell me, who is civilized, and who is savage?" 

Jackson uses herself as her model in many of her images, especially those involving the nudity of her subject matter. 

Perhaps remembering that since 1896, National Geographic has been one of the very few mass market American magazines to feature photographs of nude men and women, but only if they were black or  brown-skinned people, Jackson makes images that foreground the relationship between clothed and nude bodies.

For more on this subject, go here. 

Jackson uses herself for this work rather than models because she believes that if she worked with models she would be recreating rather than critiquing the practice of exploiting the body of another in the name of truth-telling or social commentary.

As Walsh says, "in Jackson's images, there are no 'others' --  there is just the artist, and the discomfort in seeing a black woman pose in a manner that, even today, could be  considered exploitative."

This is powerful, effective, and deeply original work. 

I do not see this work as a call for white folks like me to stop photographing people of color, but for people like me to think more deeply about what we are doing, and how we are doing it, when we do so. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

SE Center for Photography Opens in Greenville, SC

The SE Center for Photography has opened in Greenville, SC, as "an exhibition and education venue promoting the art and enjoyment of fine photography."

The SEC4P plans to offer monthly juried exhibitions as well as solo or group shows in its gallery space in an old industrial building in West Greenville.

The current show up at the SEC4P is a juried show of B + W images, including Greenville, SC-based photographer Kathryn Oliver's image Vera and the Pigs, above.

Their next show opens this Friday, November 6th, 2015, and features work deemed by the juror to represent Narrative Portraits

This show also includes work by Oliver (see image August Days, above), as well as work from a lot of other good photographers who, as best I can understand, are Not From Around Here. 

The SEC4P is located at 1239 Pendleton Street in the Village of West Greenville, a former textile mill village now being transformed into an arts district for this thriving city in South Carolina's northwestern corner. 

The SEC4P has also issued calls for work for future shows (go here), and lined up a number of photographers for future solo shows (see current list here -- scroll down to see the list).

Solo shows now on the calendar for 2016 include work by Louisiana-based photographer Ann George and Chapel Hill, NC-based photographer Lori Vrba.
Good to see another fine venue for photography opening up in the American South. Long may the folks at the SEC4P thrive! 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Alysia Burton Steele's Delta Jewels

Oxford, MS-based photographer Alysia Burton Steele has published Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisdom, Steele's project to document -- and learn wisdom from -- the folks Steele calls the Jewels in the Delta.

We've discussed Steele's work previously on this blog (go here), where we learned that Steele's Jewels in the Delta are the church mothers of black Baptist congregations in the Mississippi Delta, over 50 of them, who have shared their stories with Steele while she made their portraits.

Church mothers are leaders in their church communities, recognized for their skills in organizing programs, providing comfort and support to those in need, helping preserve traditions, and inspiring young women in their communities.  
Steele's grandmother was a Delta church mother, so the story of the Delta Jewels is also Steele's story, and a story about a remarkable group of people through whom we can come to understand the role of women in Southern religious culture. 

In Delta Jewels, Steele finds a way to do a number of things simultaneously -- to bring us beautifully seen images of women of courage, fortitude, and a sense of their place in history -- but also to understand through these folks at least something of Steele's grandmother's generation and the role of women in Southern religious culture.

The publisher's blurb for Delta Jewels gets the book just about right.

The book documents "ordinary women [who] lived extraordinary lives under the harshest conditions of the Jim Crow era and during the courageous changes of the Civil Rights Movement. 

"Steele [has] recorded . . . living witnesses to history and folk ways, and shares the significance of being a Black woman--child, daughter, sister, wife, mother, and grandmother in Mississippi--a Jewel of the Delta."

As I've said frequently, Southern photography is about making meaning of the experience of the American South, in all its tragic complexity. 

The experience of the South can often lead us to bitterness or anger, even  to despair.  

Steele, in these images and in the stories of the women she photographs, finds reason for hope. The faces of the women we see in Steele's images are the faces of people who have found ways of living lives of dignity and purpose and meaning, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

If you want to explore further the kinds of histories and and legacies these women embody, check out a performance of Crowns, by Regina Taylor, when it comes to a theater near you. 
When Delta Jewels was published, there was a gathering of church mothers at the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Mound Bayou, MS,  which was attended by over 300 people, and you can read about that gathering here.

Congratulations to Steele for her fine work, and for this outstanding contribution to the legacy of Southern photography.