Nancy McCrary, the long-time editor of the estimable SxSE Photomagazine, draws on her experience in a recent post to the online version of Don't Take Pictures.
The subject of this feature is rule-breaking, and in her essay McCrary wants to celebrate photographers who break the rule about clichés in Southern photography.
McCrary says she has "seen more photos of kudzu and magnolias, angry dogs on chains, plantation homes, rusted-out trucks, cotton still in fields, broken-down houses, poor white trash, and elderly black people on rickety front porches than one person should have to view in a lifetime."
McCrary points out how easy it is to "find clichés in the South," but what's not easy is "finding that photograph that is like a blink."
"You know it," McCrary writes. "You’ve driven past it. You saw it and you thought, 'wow, that would make a great photograph.' But, you didn’t make it."
McCrary offers us the work of Statesboro, GA-based photographer Jessica Hines (see all the photographs in this post) as an antidote to the Southern cliché photograph.
For McCrary, "Hines' photographs of the South are . . . . those little glimpses, little blinks into the South. The ones you wish you’d made."
"Looking at them," McCrary writes, " I imagine myself riding in a convertible along a two-lane road on a hot summer afternoon clicking off photographs. If I was as good.
Hines' "photographs . . . invoke spirits and ghosts, and make tangible our childhood run-wild imaginations growing up in this oppressive heat.
"They catch the irony, the mysticism, and the trade-off of crazy v. gorgeous.
"I look at her photographs – wild dogs and trailers, early morning sunrises that catches the dew on the the Fall fields, long-cast shadows of mid-summer southern suns, the ridiculous “architecture” of our tourist “attractions”, the way we dovetail guns and religion, and I think, “yeah, this is good.”
"This is what I wish I were shooting."
What I take away from McCrary's essay, and her choice of images from Hines' large body of work, is that the difference between a cliché and a great image in photographs of the American South is not so much the subject as the perspective on the subject, and the way the subject is seen, in the photographs.
In other words, McCrary's discussion takes us back to that great bit of wisdom in photography, that its all about choices -- choices about where you stand, what you include in the frame, the quality and angle of the light, and the moment you choose to push the button.
Thanks to Hines for what her images teach us to see in the world around us, and for McCrary for recognizing the fine work Hines is doing in her artistic practice.