Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Southern Cultures and the Documentary Arts

The Spring 2016 issue of Southern Cultures, the documentary arts quarterly from the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC-Chapel Hill, is devoted to documentary arts and contains several items of interest to Southern photographers. 

Edited by Tom Rankin, of Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies, this issue contains several photography essays, including Durham-based photographer Aaron Canipe's photographs of the Christmas season in Cat Square, near Vale, NC (see image above).  

Also, Shreveport, LA-based photographer Marcus Journey's work with young Mormon missionaries (see image above) and Durham-based photographer Katy Clune's work with the growing Lao community in Morganton, NC (see image below).

This issue also contains photographs from collective, multi-participant documentary projects in Tutwiler, MS and migrant farmworkers in eastern North Carolina. 

One of the most important features of this issue is the essay "Protesting the Privilege of Perception: Resistance to Documentary Work In Hale County, Alabama, 1900 - 2010," by Scott Matthews. 

The subject of Matthews' essay is the response of residents of Hale County, AL to their home's role over the last hundred years of being the go-to locale for photographers seeking a certain kind of authenticity in Southern rural life. 

Matthews notes that Hale County has been the site of photography by James Agee, Walker Evans, William Christenberry, and a whole slew of other photographers over the past hundred years.

Iconic images have been made here; Matthews is interested in the responses of those being photographed. 

He finds a narrative of resistance, resentment, embarrassment, and bitterness, all reminders of the fact that documentary photography is always complicated by the differences between the world of the photographer and the world the photographer documents.

Matthews quotes Nicholas Mirzowoeff to the effect that "Any engagement with visuality in the present or past requires establishing its counterhistory"; Matthews' essay contributes to that counterhistory, a perspective important for those of us who live in relative prosperity and who are comfortable in museums and galleries.

Fine work here -- on both sides of visuality. Well worth checking out.


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