Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hazel Larsen Archer and Photography at Black Mountain College



The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston has recently opened a show entitled LEAP BEFORE YOU LOOK: Black Mountain College 1933 - 1957

Black Mountain College gets the attention of the ICA's curators in Boston because it had a profound impact on the arts in America in the latter half of the 20th century. 

You can purchase the catalog for this show here.

The show at the ICA is a reminder that the story of Black Mountain College is an important story about the South, and about the arts. and about photography. 

Black Mountain College, in the small town of Black Mountain, NC, just east of Asheville, was open from 1933 to 1957, but in that brief time it numbered among its students or faculty members a truly breath-taking number of people who were to transform the visual and performing arts in America in the latter half of the 20th century.

You can learn more about the history of the College here. 

This list includes such distinguished writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, and musicians as Josef and Anni Albers, Josef Breitenbach, John Cage, , Mary Callery, Fritz Cohen, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Edward Dahlberg, Max Dehn, Willem de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Lou Harrison, Alfred Kazin, Franz Kline, Jacob Lawrence, Richard Lippold, Alvin Lustig, Charles OlsonAlbert William Levi, Alexander Schawinsky, Ben Shahn, Arthur Siegel, Theodoros Stamos, Cy Twombly, Jack Tworkov, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg and Emerson Woelffer

Photographers associated with Black Mountain College included Harry Callahan, Beaumont Newhall, and Aaron Siskind.


Not as well known as a photographer but far more important for Black Mountain College was Hazel Larsen Archer (see image above), who became a student at the College in 1944, then stayed on as a professor of photography until the College closed for good in 1957.

She taught photography to Robert Rauschenberg (the man in the image above) and Cy Twombly, both of whom continued the practice of photography throughout their long careers as painters and artists.  

Robert Rauschenberg's son Christopher would of course grow up to be a fine art photographer and co-founder of PhotoLucida. 


 
Archer documented in her own photography the life of the College and the people who made Black Mountain College the unique educational institution it turned out to be. 

She made portraits of teachers and students, including Merce Cunningham dancing (see image above), whom she photographed in sequences of images, capturing the development of his distinctive style of modern dance at its beginning, communicating movement through space and time. 


 

She also photographed John Cage, Willem de Kooning (see image below), Ruth Asawa, Josef and Anni Albers, and, and, among others, Buckminster Fuller (see image above) surrounded by his amazing array of geometric models.  
 

 
Below is her formal portrait of Robert Rauschenberg. 



Archer also photographed the community in action, especially its engagement in farming, and its efforts to merge faculty and students into a single community, united by their engagement in the arts.


The story of Black Mountain College -- located in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, long before either it or its neighbor Asheville had become the arts centers they are today -- is a reminder that in the South and in the arts sometimes wonderful and magical things happen.  
 
So much started here, so much worth celebrating in the arts, enabled by the time, the location, the people, and in the South, too.

 
Good to remember, and to be thankful that Hazel Larsen Archer was there, as a photographer, to document the people and the place, and what they did there that so strongly influenced American culture for the next half-century.

among its students and faculty including, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, Walter Gropius, Josef Albers, John Cage, Charles Olson, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham and Willem de Kooning, - See more at: http://www.theartstory.org/school-black-mountain-college.htm#sthash.XrfkmfDP.dpuf

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Photography Festivals in the American South, Mid-Fall 2015

 

The days are getting shorter , the weather is getting cooler, and across the South we are gearing up for the second round of fall photography festivals.

FotoWeekDC is only a few weeks away, now, running from November 7th-15th, 2015 in Our Nation's Capitol, and you can find the full schedule of events on their website, here.


December brings us PhotoNOLA, this year running from December 10th-13th, 2015. The full calendar of events is here.


For those who really plan ahead, its never too early to start. 

So its good to know that spring of 2016 is time again for the biennial FotoFest in Houston, on from March 12th - April 24th, 2016.

More here on FotoFest 2016.

William Eggleston and Ernest C Withers at the Brooks Museum



Distinguished Memphis photographers William Eggleston (see image above) and the late Ernest C Withers (see image below) are being honored by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art by the establishment of a permanent gallery dedicated to the exhibition of their work.


Eggleston is of course best known for helping transform the practice of fine art photography through his use of color film in his work. 

Withers worked primarily as a documentary photographer and photojournalist, producing many of the iconic images of the Civil Rights movement as well as of the popular music scene in the early 1950's and 1960's.

Both these sons of Memphis are worthy of the recognition the Brooks Museum is providing them woith permanent exhibitions of their work.

For more on this development, from the local Memphis press, go here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On Being Black at the Arnika Dawkins Gallery



There is an important show up now at the Arnika Dawkins Gallery in Atlanta, through January 22, 2016. 

Entitled On Being Black, this show features work by 23 nationally renowned, mid-career and emerging fine art photographers. 

The work in this show, which, as the folks at the Dawkins Gallery describe it, "explores issues of race, colorism and racial identity," reminds us that the person who makes the image controls the image, and that the most widely-known Southern photographers are white. 


All the more reason, therefore, to welcome and celebrate a show that emphasizes work by African-American photographers seeking "to continue the conversation about race" while also attempting to "make sense of the daily news." 

Photographers in the show explore how they identify themselves in relationship to questions of who gets to define race, and how its done, as well as "what it means to be black in the new millennium."

 

Photographers in the show include Jared Soares (image at the top of this post),  Delphine Fawundu (image second from the top), Janna Ireland (image third from the top). 

You can learn more about this show from Aline Smithson, who has reviewed it on  Lenscratch, here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Do Good Fund at Cassilhaus for Click!



People who live in North Carolina's Research Triangle region and who are interested in Southern photography need to make plans to see Tracing the American South, a show of work from the Do Good Fund's collection of Southern photography now up at Cassilhaus, north of Chapel Hill, through November. 

Curated by Duke's Tom Rankin and Southern photographer Rachel Boillot (see Rachel in the image above, contemplating her handiwork), Tracing the American South brings together 42 images from the Do Good Fund's collection plus a number of complementary images from the collection of Ellen Cassilly and Frank Konhaus, owners of Cassilhaus. 

This show is but one of the many events in October in the Triangle that are part of Click! Triangle Photography Festival.  

You can read more about the genesis and development of Click! here, on the Indy blog. 


The images in this show are a truly outstanding selection of work made in the American South since 1954. The Do Good Fund has assembled an exceptionally strong collection of work, from which Tom and Rachel have chosen images that work together exceptionally well. 

They have chosen work that is perfect for the gallery space at Cassilhaus, both in scale and in number.

When I say plan to see this show, I mean plan -- because the gallery space for this show is part of the private home of Frank and Ellen. 

They look forward to welcoming you, but need you to contact them  in advance to make an appointment. 

Contact them by email at fkonhaus@kontek.com or by phone at (919) 403-6301.


One of the really nice things for me about getting over to Cassilhaus for the opening was the chance to meet photographers I write about on this blog, but had not met previously, including Lori Vrba, Susan Worsham, Eliot Dudik (all pictured above, reading left to right), Aaron Canipe, and Rachel Boillot.   

For more information on this show, or on how to contact Frank or Ellen to visit Cassilhaus, check out the Cassilhaus website or the Events Calendar at CLICK! Triangle Photography Festival's site

Did I say this is a show that really can't  be missed?

OK, I'll say it again -- this show is VERY much worth you effort to get there.
 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

More News of Southern Photographers -- Fall 2015



More items from the ongoing stream of news about Southern photographers!

1. Conway, Arkansas-based photographer Donna Pinckley (see image above) has images of interracial couples from her Sticks and Stones portfolio featured on the SLATE online magazine, here and aCurator, here.

2. Mr John Bennette, along with Jerry Atnip, juried this year's SlowExposures main show of work.  Mr Bennette has recently had a series of entries on his blog hanging with mrbennette, in which he reflects on this year's show, well worth reading here.




3. Honorary Southern Photographer Beatrice Chauvin (based in Paris) is now in the Mississippi Delta, where her show of work from her UNBROKEN portfolio is now up at the BB King Museum, through October 18th, 2015. 

4. Photographs from the collection of the Do Good Fund will be on exhibit for CLICK! The Triangle Photography Festival, at Cassilhaus in Chapel Hill, NC, with an opening reception on Sunday October 11th from 3-6. 


5. Distinguished North Carolina photographer Caroline Vaughan (see image above) will open a major retrospective show of her work, including images from 1966 to the present, at the Craven Allen Gallery at 1106 1/2 Broad Street in Durham, NC, now up through November 7th, 2015.

6. Distinguished North Carolina photographer Titus Brooks Heagins has a show of his work now up at Greensboro College in Greensboro, NC, as part of Art + Dialogue: Responding to Racial Tensions In America, a series of exhibitions and conversations that seeks to address persistent issues of race in America. For more on this series of events, go here and here


7. And, finally, for now, Andrew Feiler's  photographs of Morris Brown College, which we mentioned in our last news blog, are featured this week in Jeff Rich's Eyes on the South, go here.

UPDATED -- Stacy Kranitz is Having a Wonderful 2015, and Its Only October




Stacy Kranitz, who works a lot in the Appalachian areas of the American South, is having a wonderful 2015, and its only October.

1. Kranitz has work from her As It Was Give(n) to Me portfolio in Diffusion: the Cardiff International Photography Festival, in Cardiff, Wales, now up through the month of October, go here.


Kranitz -- and the questions her work raises about how photographers can be true to their experience, and to their vision as artists, when their work draws attention to aspects of life that some members of their audience would rather not be reminded of -- has been featured by Sean O'Hanigan in London's Guardian newspaper, here.

2. Kranitz also has work from her Jerimy portfolio as part of the Independent Photography Festival in downtown Los Angeles.  

3. Kranitz also has work in the first volume of Heavy, a publication from the The Heavy Collective. You can buy your own copy of Heavy: Volume One here.

4. Kranitz will also take part in the Looking for America Symposium at the Cardif Photography Festival, on Friday, October 30th,2015.

5. Kranitz will also discuss her life and work with Colin Pantall at IC VISUAL LAB in Bristol, UK (not Tennessee). 
6. You can hear Kranitz discuss her work in a podcast for Filmmaker Magazine, with Elaine Sheldon and Sarah Ginsburg, available here:
 
You can also read the article in Filmmaker Magazine, here:
7. Kranitz has also been the subject of a review and discussion by Kate Fowler, in American Suburb X online magazine, go here:
8. Finally, Kranitz' work is frequently featured in the online magazine VICE, go here, and here, and here, for example, all work from 2015. 

And its only October. Who knows what else the year will bring?


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

SlowExposures Receives Georgia Governor's Award




SlowExposures, the quintessentially Southern photography show and festival, has been bringing the world of Southern fine art photography to Pike County, Georgia for over thirteen years. 

SlowExposures has been celebrated throughout the fine art photography world, and now has been recognized for its outstanding contributions to life in the American South by being awarded one of the 2015 Governor's Awards for the Arts and Humanities

This award is presented by the Office of the Governor of Georgia in partnership with Georgia Council for the Arts and Georgia Humanities and recognizes "outstanding individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to Georgia's civic and cultural vitality through excellence and service to the arts and humanities." 


Soon, the folks at Georgia's Council for the Arts and Humanities will get more information about SlowExposures and all the other winners of this award for this year on their website, here.

In the meantime, heartiest congratulations to Chris Curry and all the folks in Pike County for their vision, perseverance, and energy in sponsoring SlowExposures and supporting it as it has grown and developed over the years.

SlowExposures is a gift to all of us.  Long may it thrive!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

WPA Photographs Made Accessible to All



Yale University has now gone live with a new website that gives us easy access to the more than 170,000 photographs of the United States made by Farm Service Administration photographers between 1935 and 1945. 

Called Photogrammar, this site enables you to zoom into any part of the USA, and on a county-by county or specific-location-by-specific-location basis you can explore this vast collection of Depression- and World War II-era photographs. 

The site is also searchable by photographer as well as geographic location, which makes it easy to find the image above, made by Marion Post Wolcott in 1938, near Wadesboro, NC, where I was born seven years after Wolcott took this picture.

You can also find quickly the complete bodies of work done for the Works Progress Administration by Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange.

Or the photograph below, made by an unknown photographer near Wadesboro in 1941, of a Jeep crossing rough terrain pulling a thirty-seven millimeter anti-tank gun during maneuvers in preparation for America's entry in World War II. 


I remember my father -- an inveterate collector of cast-off stuff -- showing me various bits and pieces of military gear he collected when it was left behind by soldiers on these maneuvers.

 The Yale site makes all this work more accessible than it is on the Library of Congress website

The advantage of the Library of Congress site is that you can download high resolution files of these images, so you can print yourself your own copy of Lange's Migrant Mother or any of the other images from these folks in this era of their work. 

Many of the iconic images of the American South -- as well as many just as powerful but less well known -- await our discovery on Photogrammar -- check it out!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Sally Mann in Rome




Distinguished Southern Photographer Sally Mann is scheduled to read from her recently published memoir Hold Still at the American Academy in Rome on Wednesday, October 7th, 2015 at 6:00 pm, Rome time. 

Mann's reading is in celebration of the opening of an exhibition of Cy Twombly's photographs (see image above) at the Academy, a show that remains on view until November 22nd, 2015. 

Born, as was Mann, in Lexington, VA, and best known as a painter, Twombly made photographs throughout his career. His Time in the South included studying at Washington and Lee University in Virginia and Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

Twombly received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in the early 1950's which enabled him to travel to North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France. Twombly later taught at the Southern Seminary and Junior College in Buena Vista, Virginia, now known as Southern Virginia University.

In this reading, Mann will explore her own relationship with Twombly and their shared romance with the American South, specifically their love for the landscapes of their hometown Lexington, Virginia. 

Mann's reading will be followed by a conversation with curator Peter Benson Miller, Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome.

For more on the exhibition of Cy Twombly's photographs at the American Academy in Rome, go here.

If you are in Rome on October 7th, this is a not-to-be-missed event.  Please let me know how it goes so I can post a full report to this blog. 
 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

News of Southern Photographers -- Early Fall 2015



Fall is upon us, and the coming of fall means a host of exhibitions, publications, festivals, awards, and shows for the busy photographers here in the American South.

So there is much news, and your humble servant The Southern Photographer is busily bringing as much of this news to you as he is able. 

Here is a sample of what's happening --

1. Honorary Southern Photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier has been named the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship for 2015.

2. Kat Kiernan has published Issue 5 of her magazine Don't Take Pictures, which is now out with a story by Raleigh-based photographer Diana Bloomfield on the photography of Josephine Cardin , as well as photographs by Southern photographers Robert Shults, Lori Vrba,  and Jen Ervin.

 
3. Kiernan also has a web-based version of Don't Take Pictures, with a "Photo of the Day" feature. Recently, the Photo of the Day was by Chapel Hill-based photographer Leah Sobsey (see image above).  


4. Bloomfield, in addition to writing for Don't Take Pictures, has a show of work up now (see image above), at the Cornelius Art Center, in Cornelius, NC, along with Southern photographers Aspen Hochhalter and Gayle Stevens, and Montana-based photographer Christina Anderson.


5. Lexington, KY-base photographer Sarah Hoskins has had 250 photographs from her Homeplace portfolio accepted into the permanent collection of the Archive of Documentary Arts, a part of Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Hoskins has recently been interviewed by Ailene Smithson in Lenscratch magazine, here.


6. Also in Lenscratch is a profile and selection of work by Jacksonville, FL-based photographer Doug Eng, from his Streaming South portfolio (see image above).

7. In addition to Betty Press (see previous article), Southern photographers who made it to the Critical Mass shortlist this year include Tami Bone, Shannon Johnstone, S Gayle Stevens, Forest McMullin, and Tama Hochbaum.

I'm sure there are others, so if you know of a Southern photographer who made the list, please let me know and I will add them to this announcement. If I looked up all 100 names on the list, I would never get this blog post out to you. 

 
8.  Work from Jacksonville, FL-based photographer Bill Yates' portfolio Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink will be on exhibit at the Ogden Museum in New Orleans, beginning October 3rd, 2015, and up through January 17, 2016.

The Bitter Southerner has a profile of Yates, and a generous selection of work from his Skating Rink days, here. And also in London's Daily Mail, here.

9. Atlanta-based photographer Donna King Rosser is having a solo show of her work at the Rankin Arts Photography Center in Columbus, Georgia, up now through October 31, 2015.


10. Winners in this year's Slow Exposures juried exhibition are posted here,  including Preston Gannaway's First Place image, above.  

All reports indicate that a grand time was had by all down in Pike County, GA.  


11.  San Francisco Bay-Area photographer John Chiara (see image above) has a show of images from his Mississippi portfolio now up at Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta. 

Chiara makes his images  through a process that he calls "part photography part sculpture and part event." 

Chiara uses hand-built cameras, the largest of which is a 50” x 80” field camera, transported on a flatbed trailer. Once a location is selected, Chiara physically enters the camera, maneuvering in near total darkness positive color photographic paper on the camera’s back wall.

Chiara's work in Mississippi includes the obligatory kudzu shot (see image above).


12. Georgia-based photographer Andrew Feiler's new book Without Regard to Sex, Race, or Color:The Past, Present, and Future of One Historically Black College  is now out from the University of Georgia Press.

 
Feiler's book explores the history of Morris Brown College, a historically black college with a "proud past, challenging present and uncertain future."

Feiler will have a show of work from this book opening October 23rd and up through November 29th, 2015, at the  Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library and Galleries in downtown Atlanta. 

Feiller's work from this portfolio is also featured by Jeff Rich in Eyes on the South, go here. 

13. Other photographers featured -- since we last checked -- by Jeff Rich at Eyes on the South include John Lusk Hathaway (see image above) and Malcolm Lightner (see image below).



 
Also, Frank Hamrick (see image below)


And Maude Schuyler Clay (see image below)



14. Debbie Fleming Caffrey's new book Alphabet is now available from Fall Line Press. 


15. Charleston, SC photographer Melissa Levesque (see image above) has just opened a show of work from her Lowcountry Landscapes portfolio at the Saul Alexander Gallery in Charleston's Public Library, at 68 Calhoun Street, in Charleston, up now through October 31st, 2015. 

16. Chapel Hill-based photographer Lori Vrba's new book Moth Wing Diaries is new reviewed on LensCulture, here.

 All for now, but still more to come -- watch this space.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

UPDATED -- Is Steve McCurry a Southern Photographer?




OK, I've now gotten my copy of Paul Theroux's Deep South. Jack Hitt, reviewing this book for the Washington Post, pretty much nails it when he says that Theroux maintains a "posture of exalted condescension" all the way through, while piling on cliche after cliche as though he were discovering them for the first time.  

I feel a bit sad for McCurry, however. His images get shoved off to the end of the book. They get printed small. The paper they are printed on doesn't really show off the color very well.

But I seen nothing in this work to change my mind -- while Steve McCurry is undoubtedly one of the great travel photographers of our time, he is not a Southern photographer.

But there is hope -- it turns out that McCurry's parents were natives of Georgia and South Carolina, and that as a child he spent time each summer in Anderson, SC. So I hope he comes back, on his own time, and on his own dime.

If he could work out from under Theroux's editorial agenda, he might prove himself worthy after all.


His work made, chiefly, in Asia, and published in magazines, especially National Geographic, and in numerous books, has made him widely known and celebrated as a photographer.


The image immediately above, for example, though usually seen in a slightly different crop, is one of the most-seen images of recent photographic history.

McCurry is a master of light, a genius at portraiture, and a whiz at capturing what -- at least to us in the West -- seems to be, all at once, real insight into the souls of people radically different from us and a glimpse of the humanity that we all share. 


Now, he's teamed up with renowned travel writer Paul Theroux for a turn in the American South. 


Their book, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, is due out the 29th of September.

Any final estimation of what they have brought us depends of course on seeing the finished product (my copy is on order), but I think we can get the flavor of the book from an essay Theroux wrote for Smithsonian magazine, here, illustrated by some of McCurry's photographs.  

  
On the basis of this sample, however, I think McCurry's work for Theroux's project raises serious issues about the work of the photographer, and his audience, and the purpose of his enterprise. 


The conceptual structure of Theroux's book is, apparently an ongoing comparison between the poorest sections of the American South and the Third-World countries where he has made his name as a travel writer. 


Theroux says he deliberately traveled the back roads of the South, from North Carolina to South Carolina, and on through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, searching for the stories of folks “poorer in their way (as I was to find) and less able to manage and more hopeless than many people I had traveled among in distressed parts of Africa and Asia.”

McCurry, like Theroux, made his reputation by working in Third-World countries. 

Based on an admittedly partial and superficial review of McCurry's work in this volume, however, I will have to say that while his work in the American South is certainly professional -- strong, well-seen, skilled in lighting and composition -- it is not as compelling, not nearly as personal, as engaging to the eye and to the imagination, as close to its subjects, as the work he's done with which we are more familiar.


McCurry's images indicate that his South is a much duller, more barren, less interesting place than his India, his Afghanistan, his Tibet, or even -- to leave his images of the Third World behind for a moment -- his Italy or his Los Angeles.

They are also formulaic and derivative -- I can think of any number of Southern photographers who have made the Barber Shop photo, or the Abandoned Gas Station photo, or the Small Town Boarded Up Building photo, or the Church Service shot.  


Speaking of derivative, McCurry's image of a statue in the back yard of what looks like an abandoned house is clearly a descendant of the photograph of the cemetery monument in Savannah, GA, already seen by thousands upon thousands of readers of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil


We, of course, since we are Southerners, know that the American South is always potentially a source of images charged with color, energy, and the work of vigorous and creative human beings. 

This, in spite of, or maybe alongside of, the fact, that the American South is now simultaneously booming in its urban areas and along its interstate highways, but very much struggling to escape the Great Depression, not to mention the Great Recession, in towns and rural areas only a few miles away from

You can't get by in this business without drawing criticism from someone.  McCurry's images of Asia have been justly criticized as catering to Orientalism, to Western desires for images of an exoticized Asia, a kind of alternative world that is more the expression of Western fantasies about Asia than it is a depiction of Asian realities. 


Since I've been there, I can say that not all of India looks like the world we get in McCurry's images, that vast stretches of its rural areas look as bleak and sterile as the world McCurry gives us in the image of the abandoned service station with its forlorn "INTERSTATE" sign looming in the sky. 

So the images one takes are formed by one's editorial perspective. And McCurry seems to be about the work of illustrating Theroux's claim that the South he found was one inhabited by folks “poorer . . . and less able to manage and more hopeless than many people [he] had traveled among in distressed parts of Africa and Asia.”


So I think that McCurry got the job of visiting the South, finding sites and making images that confirm or illustrate the editorial perspective Theroux uses to organize his book. 


He presents himself here as a pro contract shooter, doing his job as an illustrator. He won't care what I think, because the check didn't bounce. But I don't think his heart was in it. I notice this work does not show up on his website. 

So I can't consider McCurry, on the basis of this work, as an Honorary Southern Photographer. I hope he comes back, with a broader mandate, or on his own dime.  

Then, perhaps, we will see what kind of work he can do in the South. 

If, when I get my copy of the book, I find I have generalized too hastily from a small sample of McCurry's work, I'll come back, revisit, and revise this estimation of his work in the South.



Photography is always -- at least in part -- about finding what one is looking for and constructing images that show that world. Sometimes the world one shows is an artifact of one's process and technique; sometimes, it is a result of the selections one makes from the array of choices the world presents. 

McCurry -- I think -- made his images in the South to illustrate Theroux's argument in the book about the American rural South being worse off than some people in Third-World countries. 


Many well-known photographers -- when they come to work in what is for them a new part of the world -- make the images they usually make, and which they are expected to make by their audiences.

Photographers, like artists everywhere, have a way of developing a distinctive style, whether it reside in subject matter, mode of depiction, or technique of working. Style is not a bad thing in the arts. But it has consequences.  

This is one approach that photographers take -- to produce work in a distinctive style that people come to identify with this person, hence to expect to see it in his or her work, and then are disappointed if new work is not in that style.

Some years ago, the High Museum in Atlanta hired the English photographer Martin Parr to produce a portfolio of work for them in the South. Parr came in, and, as I noted in an earlier blog post, made a set of images that look like the images that Martin Parr makes.  They were really hard to distinguish from the work he does on England, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Last spring, Roger May and some other folks got upset because of the work that resulted when the NYC-based photographer Bruce Gilden was hired to do a photo shoot in West Virginia, later published in the on-line magazine VICE.

 
May's concern was that Gilden's photographs -- admittedly the result of only 2 days' work -- reinforce stereotypes of life in Appalachia held by those unfamiliar with the region, stereotypes that May has set out to address through his admirable Looking at Appalachia project. 

The only problem is, that when you hire Bruce Gilden to make photographs, Gilden will make the photographs he believes in, and that he makes everywhere he goes. None of the portraits below, for example, were made in West Virginia.



If they are any indication, you might say the folks in West Virginia got off easy. But for Gilden, this way of working is true and honest, and the images he produces fulfill his vision. 

From Gilden's perspective, his subjects in these images are interesting to him precisely because he believes them to be "invisible" 

“A lot of these people are invisible," Gilden said in an interview on Slate -- "and people don’t want to look at them and if you don’t look at them how can you help them? When you pay attention to those who are usually ignored, it makes their day. 

"That’s not why I do it. I’m not claiming to be a humanitarian; I’m a photographer. I always photograph what’s interesting to me and it has always been people who are underdogs because I see myself as an underdog.”

Maybe all this is a reminder that you can't make everyone happy all of the time.  Gilden's work is in keeping with his vision and his understanding of the world, and it doesn't make Roger May happy. 

Maybe, because to May, the people Gilden photographed in West Virginia aren't invisible at all. 

McCurry makes work in the South to illustrate Theroux's editorial perspective, and it doesn't make me happy because I see it as superficial, formulaic, and shaped by a predetermined set of claims rather than being open and responsive to the people and things one finds in unfamiliar places.

Sure is tough, sometimes, being a photographer.