Monday, August 30, 2010

Christenberry, Eggleston at Princeton

Distinguished Southern photographers William Eggleston and William Christenberry both have work in a group show entitled Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970–1980 now up at the Princeton University Art Museum through September 26th. Work by Harry Callahan, who spent a number of years in Atlanta at the end of his career, is also included.

This show is curated by Kevin Moore and claims to be 'the first historical survey of what critics of the 1970s dubbed “The New Color Photography.” It includes the work of 18 photographers "who embraced color despite, or precisely for, its seeming artlessness." 

Moore writes that while "the duality inherent in black-and-white made it ideal for diagramming intense feelings (hope vs. gloom, righteous vs. evil, ugly vs. beautiful), color’s equanimity gave artists a way to explore the ambivalent mood of a decade trailing the heels of the Sixties: an era of collapsed ideals, disappointed hopes, upended social values, and unsettled sexual politics."

Good to see Southern pioneers of color photography getting their due recognition in this show.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Karen Shacham Shows Couples in Atlanta

Atlanta photographer Karen Shacham has a show of her work up now through August 27th in the Dewberry Gallery of the Savannah College of Art and Design in its Atlanta campus, at 1545 Peachtree Street.

This is Karen's MFA show, and it includes a large number of photographs done in traditional family portrait style of gay, lesbian, and transgendered couples. The backgrounds of many of these images are so ordinary that one suspects Karen borrowed them from the Olan Mills Studio at the Mall in Peachtree City.

But this sense of the ordinary is part of what Karen is about here, in the age of growing social comfort with same-sex relationships and the acceptance of gay marriage. Karen says in her project statement that it is the "love between these people [that] is the overarching symbol" in her photographs, not their being of the same gender.

Several of the couples shown in Karen's work are of different races, a fact that gives this body of work an extra dimension of interest regarding the exploration of sameness and difference in the realm of desire.

Both this dimension of Karen's work, AND the fact that she doesn't mention it in her account of her work serve as reminders of how different the South of today is from the South of my youth. After all, mixed race marriages were only made legal in the South through a Supreme Court decision handed down in 1967.

Southern Spaces on Katrina + 5 Years

Southern Spaces, the splendid on-line journal of "regions, places, and cultures of the American South and their global connection," posts as a regular feature the work of Southern photographers documenting distinctive features of Southern life.

Southern Spaces has a fine new photo essay entitled Katrina + 5: An X-Code Exhibition on the occasion of remembering New Orleans 5 years after Katrina and the Big Easy's catastrophic flooding.

This essay brings together the work of over 25 photographers who have documented the codes painted on the devastated houses of New Orleans in the days and weeks following the flooding. The text accompanying the photos explores the meaning of these markings, not all of which are clear, even after extensive research by Dorothy Moye, who assembled these images.

The marking on the houses reminds us that these houses themselves are marks on the city of New Orleans which speak in their own codes about Southern American life in the face of natural disaster and the challenges posed to citizens, to governments, and to civic groups in responding to emergencies.

Among the many distinctive things about Southern life is the array of recurring natural challenges we live with as a result of Southern weather -- hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, winds, the heat, the humidity, the piercing dampness of cold weather -- not to mention the ongoing crisis provoked by carelessness with technology like the oil spill in the Gulf.

New Orleans seems to get more of than its share of these disasters. Living with suffering is a terrible condition but it also seems, once in a while, to be the soil from which come powerfully creative responses to the most desperate if circumstances. Check out this story on Signs (and Wonders) in New Orleans, and while you are there check out the many fine photographic essays Southern Spaces has already posted.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chris Sims Goes International with Two Shows

Durham photographer Chris Sims is having a year to remember. Sims, who won this year's Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers with his images exploring installations in the USA that serve as training sites for American soldiers preparing for war in Iraq or Afghanistan, will exhibit images from this body of work in two shows in Europe, opening in September.

The first show is in the Netherlands, at Noorderlicht Photography, in Groningen, as part of Warzone, a group show of work featuring photographers from Europe, Australia, and Canada, as well as from the USA. This show will be up from September 5th through October 31st, as part of the Noorderlicht Photofestival 2010.

The second show is in England, at the Impressions Gallery in Bradford. This show, called Bringing the War Home, features the work of 10 photographers and will be up from September 17th through the 14th of November.

This news is great for Chris, who we trust will spend the month of September in Europe going from opening to opening and reveling in his success.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Deborah Luster Show Forthcoming in NYC

One of my favorite Southern photographers is Deborah Luster, a New Orleans-based photographer who in the age of big, bright, color, super-sharp images that often leave me feeling cold and distant has chosen to print small and dark and soft, and on coated metal, so you can hold her images in your hand.

At a show of her work some years ago at the NC Museum of Art, they were stacked in a box and viewers were invited to pick them up, shuffle through them, arrange them in some way that might make some sense.  In a high-tech world of photography, these are high touch images.

Her major body of work has been her portfolio One Big Self, a collection of portraits made in the high-security prisons of Louisiana, especially Angola and San Gabriel's, of inmates who because of violent and other crimes will be in prison for very long time. These are people who have lost or thrown away pretty much everything and they are living under some of the most difficult conditions of confinement and forced labor one can imagine..

Luster's images come out of the humanistic rather than the analytic tradition of photography. She looks openly and honestly and respectfully at people who have little left but themselves, the unaccommodated people, and they look back as they are, as best as they can muster to show us. There is dignity in these images, and that's a reminder that every human being has a dignity that deserves respect.

I can't find a website for Luster -- if anyone knows of one, please let me know. In the meantime, my friend Chris Sims has pointed me to a great story on Luster and this body of work here, on the Kitchen Sisters website from NPR, including interviews and more images and some poems inspired by this project by the poet C. D. Wright. 

Luster now has a new body of work, again from Louisiana, called Tooth for an Eye: A Choreography of Violence in Orleans Parish, which recently was shown at the Glassell Gallery at LSU in Baton Rouge. For more on this body of work, check out this story from last year's PhotoNOLA festival. In 2011, it will be shown in NYC in at Jack Shainman Gallery.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jerry Siegel Photographs John Menapace

Birmingham-based photographer Jerry Siegel recently visited North Carolina and spent some time adding to his series of portraits of artists. He caught up with John Menapace while here and has graciously agreed to share some of his work with us as a way of honoring John. 

I am a big admirer of Jerry's work and really appreciate his agreeing to show this work on the blog.

You can see more of Jerry's fine work here, here, and here, including this splendid portrait of distinguished NC photographer Elizabeth Matheson.

Jerry is definitely a Southern Photographer to Watch Out For. More on his work later.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

John Menapace, Southern Photographer, Is Dead

John Menapace, master fine art photographer and teacher of photographers in North Carolina, died last week. He was 82 years old. 

Menapace was deeply influential on generations of North Carolina photographers, including Elizabeth Matheson and Caroline Vaughan.

Menapace was not a native Southerner. He was born in Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania, attended Yale University, and worked as a graphic designer for the Oxford University Press.  He later moved to Durham, NC to become Director of Design and Production at Duke University Press.

Menapace was largely self-taught as a photographer, though he studied deeply the work of Eugene Atget, Ansel Adams, and Minor White. He began to earn recognition for his photographs in the early 1970's, when he also began to teach photography at Duke University, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and also at the Penland School of Crafts in western North Carolina.

In 1984, the North Carolina Museum of Art recognized the importance of Menapace's work by giving him their first show devoted solely to photography. That same year, the Jargon Press published Letter in a Klein Bottle, a portfolio of Menapace's early work.

In 2006, Huston Paschal curated a one-man show at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design at North Carolina State University. The work in this show was published in a book, With Hidden Noise, with the title referring to Marcel Duchamp, an artist from whose wit, as well as his understanding of the nature of art, Menapace drew inspiration. 

Also in 2006,  the NCMA included Menapace on the list of 10 distinguished NC photographers whose work it decided to purchase in depth. 

Paschal said of Menapace that his "impact on the practice and acceptance of photography in North Carolina has been incalculable. The high standard to which he rigorously adhered supplied crucial reinforcement to developing artists and to those he taught in--and out of--the classroom."

A local writer, reflecting on the enduring qualities of John's work speaks of the "cerebral, formally elegant, witty, lyrical, and tender qualities in John's photographs.

Gene Thornton, reviewing a show of John's work in the New York Times, describes John's "impeccable taste and a faultless sense of design," transforming "perfectly ordinary bits of landscape - the curved border of a garden pond, a cyclone fence silhouetted against a hazy sea - into elegant semi-abstractions in black and white." 

For more about Menapace, see this long profile from 2006 in Durham's Independent,entitled "Solitaire with pictures: John Menapace reflects on his life as a photographer," or this one from the website of the Penland School.

Contributions honoring the life and work of John Menapace may be made to the John Menapace Photography Endowment at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, Campus Box 7306, NC State University, Raleigh, NC 27695.