Friday, March 29, 2013

Anderson Scott's Whistling Dixie -- Updated

Atlanta-based photographer Anderson Scott has now published his book Whistling Dixie, featuring his photographs of Confederate re-enactors at war and at play.

He's been photographing these folks in the field for some time now, as well as hanging out with them around the encampments and attending the Jefferson Davis Birthday Parties and all the other attendant activities these folks get up to in the pursuit of their fantasy that the South won (or should have won) -- the Civil War.

Robert Hinton, a native of Raleigh and a professor of history and Africana Studies at NYU, says of events like this that he doesn't care if people refight the Civil War, so long as the outcome remains the same. The folks in Scott's photographs keep hoping that if they keep up their fantasy play, one day they will change the outcome.

Scott was quoted in SxSE magazine a while back, when they published a portfolio of these photographs, to the effect that  "At the reenactment, I found a population that seriously believed that this world would have been a better place had the South won.

"I also learned that this population routinely acts out its beliefs in elaborate alternate-reality events, not just reenactments, but also many other public and private functions.

"These events seem to combine political magical thinking (“If I wish hard enough, the Confederacy will return”) and personal magical thinking (“Here at the reenactment I am the dashing Confederate officer I rightfully should be, rather than the functionary that I am at work”)."

You can read a really thoughtful interview with Scott here, on Wired

Scott's book is an important look into the alternative world in which the re-enactors live. It's also a look into the contradictory moral world that some Southerners have gotten themselves into since the Civil War.

This is a world of make-believe, a world as phony as these re-enactments, a world where the Civil War wasn't the Civil War, but the War Between the States, and it wasn't about slavery at all, but about states' rights.

Somebody once noted that ignorance and stupidity are two different concepts that often get confused.  Ignorance is a condition that can be alleviated by education, but stupidity is a commitment. These folks are making that commitment.

There is a new book out called The New Mind of the South, by  Tracy Thompson, another Southerner who will have none of this nonsense. Thompson takes a long, hard look at these folks in her book. You can get the flavor of her argument here.

There is an interview with Thompson about her book, from the NY Times, here.

I will confess that I am as much a Southerner as anyone can be. My family has lived in the South since we came here from England and Scotland and Ireland. My ancestor John Wall moved to North Carolina from Virginia in about 1750.

All my ancestors are Southern, I'm descended from slave-owners on both sides of my family, and at least two of my ancestors were killed by Sherman's soldiers on their way north after burning Atlanta.

And I know that when my ancestors went to war in 1861, a war that wreaked havoc on the South, a war that resulted in the deaths of over half a million Americans, they went to war for one reason, and one reason only, to preserve a legal, social, and economic system based on slave labor.

But, as someone once said, the tragedy of being black in the South is that you can never forget slavery. The tragedy of being white is that you can forget slavery.

Scott in these images has nailed the look and the attitudes of folks who have forgotten the moral enormity of what my ancestors were up to in the Civil War. Or who know -- as many of the folks did, back in the early 1800's -- that slavery was wrong, that our ancestors were wrong, and who choose to play games with time, with history, with other peoples' lives and histories.

They are able to pretend to be Confederates without confronting the violence and the cruelty and degradation  that my ancestors were capable of inflicting on other human beings.

Scott's images suggest other kinds of magical thinking going on among these folks as well. Like the thoughts running through the heads of the two old guys in the image above who are taking exceptionally un-paternal interest in the young blond woman sitting between them.

The wonder of Scott's work is in the fact that there are shots like the one at the top of this blog entry, in which he captured the look on the face of the young woman in the right foreground of that image.

My guess is, she's asking herself how the hell did she let herself get dressed up in this silly dress and sitting on a toe-sack in front of that mean-looking white woman and that flag, and just when a photographer walked by.

This work represents, to me, a powerful send-up of Old South iconography, combined with deep compassion for its sad, desperate fans.

As I've said before on this blog, Scott's perhaps most truthful image in this book is this one, of a frightened and pathetic little boy alone in the woods, with only his way-too-big gun to help him feel safe. That gun would kill him if he ever had to fire it, but for the moment he's safe in his sad fantasy that his gun makes him a real man. 

In contrast, here's an authentic Southerner's response to the reality of slavery and its aftermath. Robert Hinton of NYU makes the comment I quoted at the top of this blog entry in a wonderful documentary film called Moving Midway, about the effort to preserve a Southern ante-bellum mansion from the onslaught of shopping centers and strip malls.

To preserve it, the owners choose to move it. In the process, they learn about, and meet, their extended family of relatives and descendants, black and white.

Along the way, lives and understandings get changed. Hinton, for example, says, early in the movie that as far as he is concerned they can tear the house down and pave over it. The house is a sign to him of the institution of slavery, and of all the pain and suffering of his forebears.

With time, however, he comes to take a different view. “I was walking on floors that my great grandmother had swept,” he explains. “I slept in a bed she had probably made a thousand times, and I ate at a table where she had served the white folks,and so, while it wasn’t an ideal situation, it felt like I was reconnecting.”

 “My people built the house, and I wanted it to be preserved as proof of their labor and their skill,” he says. “As long as it exists, no one can say that they weren’t enslaved.”

Honesty, appreciation, candor, integrity, respect, dignity -- that's what we need when we look back, and when we look forward, as Southerners.

Anderson Scott is to be congratulated on this fine, painful, and strong book of photographs. It is a considerable achievement, a deep and thoughtful body of work, for which we owe him a great debt of gratitude.

You can read more about Scott's book here, from Arts Atlanta.

Monday, March 25, 2013

SxSE for Late Winter 2013

The latest issue (Volume VI, # 2) of South by South East (SxSE) Photography Magazine is now out for the late winter of 2013, and it has all the fine photography and engaging features we have come to expect from SxSE.

Editor Nancy McCrary is breaking new ground with this issue by concentrating on  two different subjects, Cuba and the Nude.

Photographers offering work made in Cuba include Dani Alfonso, Mario Algaze, Byron Baldwin, Nell Campbell, Lorrie Dallek, Meg Griffiths, Daniel Kramer, Builder Levy, Clay Lipsky, Mark Mosrie, Abigail Seymour, and Magdalena Solé  (see image above).

Photographers offering interpretations of the Nude include Rose M Barron, Raymond Grubb, Paul Hagedorn, Christian Harkness (see image above), Bryce Lankard, Fred Link, and Jon Morgan.

In addition to all this fine photography there are all the interviews, reviews, discussions, and conversations we have come to expect, and value, from SxSE.

And you can have access to all this fine -- and award-winning -- work for a very reasonable fee.

You can subscribe to the online version here.

Don't put it off any longer.

You know you should subscribe.

You know it, you really do.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Juried Shows Coming Up in Georgia

The post brings invitations to participate in two juried shows that will be up in Georgia later this year. These shows together provide bookends of a kind on the range of photographic work being done in the fine state of Georgie, and across the South.

Atlanta-based photographer Beth Lilly (see her work above) writes of a show sponsored by the Atlanta Photography Group designed to explore, in this electric age, what photographers could do if the power went off.

Called The Post-Apocalyptic Photo Challenge, it seeks work that responds to questions like these:

"Is our digital dependency causing us to overlook the image-making potential of new materials and knowledge that hasn’t yet been used in fine art photography?

"On the flip side, are there creative new ways to use vintage photographic methods?

"Is it even possible today to utilize chemical processes without electricity?"

I guess this is an appropriate concern, since the power does go off a lot around here, when the ice storm hits, or the hurricane blows through, or  the squirrel gets into the transformer. 

In any case, the concept is intriguing, the entry deadline is May 18th, and the entry form is here.

The other Call for Entries that has just gone out is this year's edition of SlowExposures, the juried show about the rural South, held every September just south of Atlanta, in Pike County, Georgia.

This is one of the great events in Southern photography, because its done right, and done well.

The show will open on September 20th, 2013. Work is due by June 16th, 2013.

A Description of the Event is here. The Call for Entries is here. The Schedule of Events is here. An inspirational quote from Marjorie Rawlings is here.An inspirational image by Cynthia Henebry is above.

What more could anyone ask for? Time to make plans to participate.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Paul Kwilecki at the Center for Documentary Studies

Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies has a major show of Southern photography by Paul Kwilecki, up now through July 27th, 2013, in their galleries at the CDS home, 1317 W. Pettigrew Street, in Durham, NC.

Paul Kwilecki (1928-2009) is not well-known as a photographer, but he photographed in Decatur County, Georgia, for four decades, and assembled a major body of work.

This work is now on exhibit at CDS, and is also the subject of a new book, One Place: Paul Kwilecki and Four Decades of Photographs from Decatur County, Georgia,  edited by CDS Director Tom Rankin and published by the University of North Carolina Press.

The folks at CDS fill in the background a bit, noting that "Paul Kwilecki was born and lived his entire life in Bainbridge, Georgia, running the family hardware store, raising a family, and teaching himself how to use a camera.

"Over four decades, he documented life in his community, making hundreds of masterful and intimate black-and-white prints.

"The self-taught artist developed his visual ideas in series of photographs of high school proms, prison hog killings, shade-tree tobacco farming, factory work, church life, the courthouse. 'Decatur County is home,' Kwilecki said, 'and I  know it from my special warp, having been both nourished and wounded by it.'”

You can see more of Kwilecki's work here.

Kwilecki described his work, and his subject, thus: "I am frequently asked by people who have not seen my work why I spend my life documenting one simple place like Decatur County, Georgia. People confuse simple with small; they’re not the same thing. There are no simple places or simple lives. . . . . Life in Decatur County is like life everywhere, and I cannot think of a higher goal than understanding what we can of it.”

The photographs in this show are splendid, and they raise interesting conundrums.

Work that focuses on a narrow range of subject matter suggests, as Kwilecki does, that anywhere is everywhere, and of course there is no greater challenge than to make sense of place, and life, and time, anywhere you find it.

Is Decatur County, in southern Georgia, on the Florida line, everywhere, or is there something special about it because it is in Georgia, and not, say Iowa? Or Colorado?

Many thanks to Tom Rankin, and to all the folks at CDS, for bringing Kwilecki's work to our attention. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Southern Photographers Featured Online and On Paper -- Late Winter 2013

Lots of Southern photographers are featured in on-line magazines -- and paper magazines -- at the moment.

For example, ISSUE 47 of fraction magazine features work by Atlanta-based photographer Deanne Andrus (see image above), from her United/Apart portfolio.

Also, work by Houston-based photographer Galina Kurlat, with images from her Safe Distance portfolio (see image above).

Also, work by Dallas-based photographer Nancy Newberry, with images from her Halfway to Midland portfolio
(see image above).

Over at the Oxford American, Jeff Rich continues to feature outstanding photographers he has found with their Eyes on the South.

Since our last check-in, Jeff has included the work of German photographer Constanze Flamme (see above) from her portfolio Troubled Waters.  

Also, Lexington, KY-based photographer Sarah Hoskins, with work (see above) from her portfolio The Homeplace.

Also, Hammond, LA--based photographer Bethany Sousa, with work (see above) from her portfolio Sunshine State.

Also, Savannah-based photographer Carson Sanders, with work (see above) from his portfolio made at the Bush & Barnes Barber Shop.

Also, Cary, NC-based photographer Roger May, with work (see above) from his portfolio Testify.

Also, Nashville, TN-based photographer Hollis Bennett, with work (see above) from his portfolio American Weekend.

And in paper magazines -- remember paper magazines? -- the current issue of SHOTS magazine has work by Fayetteville, GA-based photographer Donna Rosser (see image above), Newnan, GA- based photographer Anne Berry, Rockville, TN-based photographer Christopher Harris, Greenville, TX-based photographer Barry McNew, and Houston, TX-based photographer Laura Burlton.

Lots of fine work here, work well worthy of our attention.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jerry Siegel and Joe Leavenworth on One: One Thousand

The online photo magazine One: One Thousand (1:1000) offers us for February work by Atlanta-based photographer Jerry Siegel and Georgia-born photographer Joe Leavenworth.

Both these photographers use their work to engage in that traditional Southern activity of coming to terms with their own history as Southerners. Siegel's work here explores Selma, Alabama, his birthplace, while Leavenworth makes his work in his birthplace, Decatur, Georgia.

Jerry Siegel, whom we know chiefly for his portraits of Southern artists, here brings his skills as a portrait photographer to the landscapes around Selma, Alabama (see image above), a place where Siegel and his siblings maintain the family home and nurture a continuing "attachment to and sentiment for Selma," a "bond with our past."

In this portfolio Black Belt Color Siegel documents also how one can grow up in the midst of conflict and change and be sheltered from it. Like so many of us white Southerners, he says he was "sheltered and oblivious to the tensions and unrest of the times," even though he was seven when Dr. Martin Luther King, jr led the march from Selma to Montgomery. 

The death of Siegel's father led him to photography intentionally in Selma, as he says, "to look more closely at Selma and its surroundings - the haunts of my youth, driving the streets, old stomping grounds and back roads. I continue to shoot these places that hold a special meaning for me"

This work gives us traces of an older South in the midst of its fading into the past, in this series of richly colored and elegantly composed panoramic images. There is a haunting tranquility here, an evoking of Southern icons of the landscape like Co'Cola signs and cotton fields and churches, and the green, green lushness of the land.

Joe Leavenworth gives us work from his portfolio Native Son which enacts a more complicated relationship to Decatur, Georgia, and to the Southern past and present, and to his own history. This work is the result of an annual trip Leavenworth -- who now lives and works in Brooklyn -- takes each year to, as he says, "begin developing a physical relationship to my biological landscape."

It turns out that he is an adopted son, the ground, Leavenworth says, of  "a profound curiosity and desire to de-mystify a region, culture, and people that biologically I have some strange, abstract connection to."

So, Native Son is about discovery, or perhaps about creation of deeper ties to, or documentation of deeply ambivalent feelings toward, this place of origin, and to those who live there, all the time.

Or, as Leavenworth puts it, "Inherently, approaching the South as an outsider, I am continually aware of the complexities in creating an accurate, "real" impression, because essentially these photographs represent impressions. They are my impressions, true to my experience, and collectively, they begin to create a portrait of a search. I am seeking something humble and pure."

My guess is, Southerners talk of home so much because, they, too, like Leavenworth, sense that they are both of it and outside of it.Even the insiders are outsiders; note the look of suspicion on the face of the man in the truck, above, framed and both revealed and concealed by the half-rolled-down truck window. A man at home with himself and with his memories and longings would reveal himself differently to the world around him.

Native Son is of course the famous novel by Richard Wright about another Southerner -- Bigger Thomas -- who is also a long way from home, and about what it means to be black and poor in America. Leavenworth may think that he is looking in these images at the South with the eyes, and camera, of an outsider, but his vision is very much at home.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

William Eggleston at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

William Eggleston, the Dean of Southern Photographers, is having a show of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, up now through July 28th, 2013.

The show is called At War with the Obvious: Photographs by William Eggleston 

The show features, in the words of the Met's advertising copy, " the artist's iconic photographs of commonplace subjects that have become touchstones for generations of artists, musicians, and filmmakers from Nan Goldin to David Byrne, the Coen Brothers, and David Lynch."

William Eggleston is widely credited with bringing about the color revolution in fine art photography. 

As the Met puts it, again, "Through a profound appreciation of the American vernacular (especially near his home in the Mississippi Delta) and confidence in the dye transfer printmaking process to reveal the region's characteristic qualities of light and saturated chromatics, Eggleston almost single-handedly validated color photography as a legitimate artistic medium."

So, there you have it. Eggleston has now achieved perhaps the highest level of recognition available to a living American artist -- a solo show  at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Not bad for a boy from Mississippi.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mira Greene's White Friends

A new book of photography -- Chicago-based Honorary Southern Photographer Mira Greene's My White Friends  -- engages us powerfully with issues of race, history, identity, and family. These are all perennial concerns of Southern culture, and of course race is at the center of all of them.

We who are Southerners, and think of ourselves as white, tend to believe that we are "just folks," that is, we are the people, and people who are different from us are a different kind of people. The practice of dividing people up, of categorizing people according to this or that set of characteristics, is an ancient and very human trait.

Mira Greene's work has been about making photographs that are both works of art and also an interrogation of ways in which photography has been used as a tool to objectify and classify people into social types. In this work, she poses the question "How do we look at black people and recognize their character?"

Her portfolio Character Recognition (2006-2007), for example, consists of self-portraits, close-ups of her eyes, lips, nose, and ears,  in black glass ambrotypes that resemble taxonomic photographs of early anthropologists, criminologists, and psychologists who believed that detailed measurements of the body could reveal signs of individual character.

In My White Friends, she turns the tables, turning her camera outward to see if she can figure out whether a photograph can capture and depict the nuances of whiteness. The title itself echoes that pathetic line of Southern white self-justification; you know what I mean, "Why, some of my best friends are . . . . . "

The exceptional depth of Greene's engagement with these issues is why she is an Honorary Southern Photographer. Her work helps us understand more fully the Southern experience.

Greene is having a show of this work right now at the Williams College Museum of Art, up through April 14th, 2013.

The folks at Williams College say this about her work: "Greene’s portraits examine her white companions as archetypal figures, a collectivity, and a racial group. The subjects’ physical bodies and the spaces they inhabit signify whiteness as a complex cultural construct that raises questions about status, cultural and racial norms, and privilege."

I'm not sure what Greene sees when she looks at these images, but what I see is folks who are so completely comfortable with being who they are, with being white people, that its a little scary.  As someone put it, the tragedy of Southern history is that while black people can never forget the legacy of slavery, white people can.

All this, in spite of the fact that, as any biologist will tell you, race doesn't exist. There is no biological essence that makes one person black, or another person white, or another person any of the other conventional classifications of human type.

And, of course, in the South, when different kinds of people get together and really talk about their histories and backgrounds, answering those basic questions we all want to know when we meet -- "Where you from" and "who's your Daddy" -- we have a way of finding that we are, really, cousins, whether we want to be or not.

Those basic units of Southern identity -- race and family -- got mixed up a long time ago by people we might not want to recognize as our ancestors who got up to behaviors we probably do not want to imagine under circumstances we would really like to forget.

Anyone who thinks he or she has a clear notion of blackness and whiteness in Southern, even American, culture, needs to read Daniel Sharfstein's The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White  (2011).

One of the things Sharfstein notes is that in South Carolina, of all places, in the 19th century, when the social world was basically divided into two groups, slave and free, the legislature defined the difference between being black and white in terms of social condition. If you were free, and especially if you owned slaves, you were white. If you were enslaved, you were black.

A South Carolina legislator said at the time that if ancestry was the key to racial difference, then no one in South Carolina could be sure he was white.

But that concept of race, a concept rich with fluid categories and arbitrary distinctions, seems always beyond us. Greene's move here, to ask whose of us who think of ourselves as white, to think about the construction of categories, and the power that categories bring, is really valuable to the ongoing conversation  of Southern history.

This is among the the best kinds of things that photography can do. Especially Southern photography.

Springtime in the South -- Scene Heating Up!

Winter is almost over, and the spring photography scene is beginning to heat up. Here is some recent news from the Southern photography scene.

Columbia, SC-based photographer Kathleen Robbins has had work from her new portfolio In Cotton featured on the blog LensScratch, here.

Jeff Rich has a show of work from his portfolio Watershed now up at United Photo Industries in Brooklyn, NY and on a new website dedicated to the project.

PDN's List of 30 New and Emerging Photographers for 2013 is out, and includes Alabama-born photographer Ty Cole, Miami-born photographer Lisa Emalech,  Dallas-born photographer Michael Friberg, Washington, DC-born photographer Adam Golfer, Columbia, SC-based photographer Meg Griffiths (see image above), Atlanta-born photographer Michael Hanson,  and New Orleans-based photographer Rush Jagoe.

Congratulations to all those good folks!

Western-NC based photographer Ezra Gardiner has a show of landscape work up now at The Bascomb Center for the Visual Arts, in Highlands, NC, a show which also includes work by Sally Mann and others.

Kael Alford, when she is not shooting in Louisiana, is doing work in other challenging places like Iraq, and she has a show of that work up now at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, up now through June 16th, 2013.

And speaking of Louisiana, Brian Finke's photographs of the LSU football team and companions are featured on Le Journal de la Photographie and at the St Louis Art Museum. 

Mississippi-based photographer Don Norris has a show of his work up at the Oddfellows Gallery in Hattiesburg, MS, now through  March 15th, 2013.

The 12 12 Gallery in Richmond has its annual juried portrait show up now through April 14th, 2013, and the folks with work on offer include a bunch of photographers with Southern roots or connections, including my friend and Raleigh-based photographer Diana Bloomfield.

AND, the Look3 Festival in Charlottesville, VA, is set for June 13-15, 2013, featuring Gregory Crewdson, Josef Koudelka, Tim Laman, Susan Meiselas, Richard Misrach, Michael Nichols, and Honorary Southern Photographer Carrie Mae Weems.