Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The True Gospel Preached Here -- Bruce West Documents Outsider Art in Mississippi

Springfield, Missouri-based photographer Bruce West has just published, with the University Press of Mississippi, a volume of photographs called The True Gospel Preached Here.

The subject of this body of work is the lifetime work of the Reverend H. D. Dennis, a self-proclaimed preacher, artist, and architect, and his wife, Margaret, in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Over the past twenty years, this couple has transformed a place called Margaret's Grocery into a fantastic world of Outsider Religious Art that includes several towers, a "replica" of the Ark of the Covenant containing tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, as well as religious iconography entirely of the Dennis's invention.

Visitors to the site are greeted by signs that read "Welcome Jews and Gentile This Church Open 24 Hours a Day" and "The True Gospel Preached Here."

The University Press of Mississippi gives us this further description:

"Bands of high-gloss red, white, blue, green, yellow, and pink paint covered the towers and exterior. Religious artifacts, Mardi Gras beads, plastic flowers, hubcaps, and flashing Christmas lights encrusted the interior walls and ceilings and an old school bus.

"The Reverend used his church as a roadside attraction to lure seekers so that he could deliver fiery sermons and orations about the need to "practice living perfectly" and the ceaseless pursuit of spiritual wisdom.

"West's images offer unique insights into the role of spirituality in southern folk art and creativity and the joys and demands of an ascetic and inspired life."

The Press reports that the architect and MacArthur Fellow Samuel Mockbee lists the Dennis's transformation of Margaret's Grocery as among the ten most significant examples of Southern architecture, and comments that "its crude materials and methods of construction place it in an ethereal state of being and perpetual sense of beauty.”

What West has found -- and documented for us in these splendid photographs -- is a classic example of religious visionary art,  of the capacity of biblical imagery to capture the imagination and compel the creative spirit.

West's images of Margaret's Grocery were also featured recently on Jeff Rich's Eyes on the South blog for the Oxford American.

This work grows out of the central role of religion, especially Christianity, in the American South, which inspires some folks, including those with great vision but limited means, to significant artistic achievement.

One imagines that Margaret's Grocery not too long ago looked much more like the grocery and fish stand that Walker Evans found near Birmingham, Alabama in the 1930's (see image above) than it does today, like no other place on earth.


The power of the human imagination  to create meaning and beauty in the midst of poverty and oppression does not justify or excuse the actions of those who create or sustain the conditions of poverty and opression.

 But that power is worth recognizing and celebrating when it breaks out in places like Margaret's Grocery, transformed by the Dennis's vision.

Bruce West has brought that vision to our attention through his fine work, and through this fine book, for all of which we must be deeply grateful.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Picturing the South -- Abelardo Morell at the High Museum

Up now, through May 18th, 2014, at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta is a photography show The Universe Next Door, featuring photographs by the Cuban-American photographer Abelardo Morell.

Thsi show constitutes a major retrospective of Morell's work, offering more than a hundred of Morell's photographs.

Included among them are the images Morell made in and around Atlanta as the latest photographer chosen by the High for its annual Picturing the South commission.

According to the High, Morell devoted his commission to two kinds of work that together create a kind of diptych of the Southern urban landscape.

Some of this work represents "trees – an iconic subject in the history of photography – in playfully unusual and imaginative ways" (see image below).

In addition to looking at trees of the Southern landscape, he has used a camera obscura to capture their urban counterpoint in several views of the Atlanta skyline (see image above).

The High established the practice of commissioning work for the Picturing the South project in 1996, asking established and emerging photographers to produce work inspired by the American South.

Past participants include Sally Mann, Dawoud Bey, Richard Misrach, Emmet Gowin, Alex Webb, Alec Soth, Martin Parr, Kael Alford, and Shane Lavalette, whose commissions have all been added to the High's permanent collection.

Long-time readers of this blog will remember that I have a complex relationship with the Picturing the South initiative at the High. I think the whole undertaking is fraught with issues.

Sometimes the work that comes in is profound, sometimes troubling (see Richard Misrach's work from two years ago), sometimes superficial. Sometimes it looks like the shooter flew into Atlanta, shot for a couple of days, then took the money and ran.

At least recently, the shooters engaged by the High have been Big Names from out of town. One remembers that there are many fine Southern photographers who have experience, vision, and technique, and who probably could use the work.

Time will tell how Morell's work stands up.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The High Museum -- $4 Million for Photography

Atlanta's High Museum of Art has announced receipt of several gifts totaling nearly $4 million to support development and exhibition of its photography collection.

A gift from Donald Keough, former president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola, and his wife Marilyn will endow a permanent curatorial position in photography and support ongoing photography programs and acquisitions at the Museum.

Currently held by Brett Abbott, the position will be named the Donald and Marilyn Keough Family Curator of Photography in recognition of their generosity.

The High also received a gift from Lucinda W. Bunnen, an Atlanta-based photographer and longtime supporter of the High’s photography collection, to create the first dedicated photography gallery in the Museum’s permanent collection space.

A gift from Paul Hagedorn will support photography acquisitions initiatives and initiate the department’s first acquisitions endowment, while a gift from the Yellowlees Family will be used to strengthen the Museum’s noteworthy collection of Southern photography.

 “These landmark gifts represent a transformational moment for photography at the High,” said Michael E. Shapiro, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. director.

“Photography is our fastest growing area of collecting, research and programming, and these gifts will ensure that the High can continue our commitment to new scholarship and commissioning new works by living artists. We hope that these significant gifts inspire others to support our photography programs and the growth of our collection.”

The High Museum of Art wants us to know that it has been collecting photography for several decades and now holds more than 5,400 prints, holdings focus on American work of the 20th and 21st centuries, with special strength in modernist traditions, documentary genre and contemporary photography.

The collection also gives special attention to pictures made in and of the South, serving as the largest and most significant repository representing the region’s important contributions to the history of photography.

In this context, its worth noting that the High's “Picturing the South” initiative has commissioned established and emerging photographers to produce work inspired by the area’s geographical and cultural landscape.

Past participants include Sally Mann, Dawoud Bey, Emmet Gowin, Richard Misrach, Alex Webb and Alec Soth, whose commissions have all been added to the High’s permanent collection.

Congratulations to the High Museum, and to the good citizens of Atlanta, for their continuing support of photography in the American South.

Testament, by Chris Hondros

Raleigh, NC-based photographer Chris Hondros died in combat while covering the Arab Spring uprising in Libya in April of 2011 for Getty Images.

I had the good fortune to meet Chris a couple of times when he spoke to the photography class that Roger Winstead and I taught for a number of years at NC State University. 

Rarely have I met someone so unfailingly gracious, thoughtful, and inspiring.

Chris saw his role as a photographer as that of a witness. He believed in the importance of his work as creating a window into worlds of violence and chaos.

He could talk with remarkable calm about his work, even though it was made in some of the most dangerous places and situations in the world. 

Chris' message to the students was about the value of what they were learning to do, of making images with courage and integrity, of engaging in the practice of photography out of deep respect and concern for his subjects, for their dignity as human beings. 

Chris never downplayed the danger or the personal risk, but made it clear that in his view his work was vital to him, and for us, if we were to understand the world around us, or the full range of human experience, or the kinds of things that were being done in our name in some parts of the world.

Now, the folks at Getty Images, together with the editors at PowerHouse Books, bring us Testament: Chris Hondros, a beautifully done book that brings together a generous sampling of Chris' images and a series of essays Chris wrote about his experience of making the work.

This volume represents a fitting and eloquent tribute to Chris the photographer and Chris the human being. 

Proceeds from the sale of Testament will go to to support the Chris Hondros Fund, an organization dedicated to the support and protection of photojournalists. 

Just this week, the Chris Hondros Fund made its first awards, to Daniel Berehulak a photojournalist based in New Delhi, India, who will receive a $20,000 prize to support his documentary work, and to Preston Gannaway, a US photographer, who has been named a finalist for the award, and will receive a $5,000 prize.

The awards will be given on May 7, at a benefit for the Chris Hondros Fund to be held at Aperture Gallery in New York.

The Fund, according to its administrators, “advances the work of photojournalists who espouse [Chris Hondros's] legacy and vision, and sponsors fellowships, grant making and education to raise understanding of the issues facing reporters in conflict zones.”

I highly recommend this volume to you, both for the quality of Chris' photography and for the worthiness of the goals your purchase will support. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Southern Photographer on Facebook

The sharp-eyed reader will notice that I've changed the name of this blog.

We are now The Southern Photographer.

Everything else remains the same.

But we do have a Facebook page, here:

We also have an email address,

Can Twitter be far behind?

Support will of course be appreciated, especially while I learn how to use the Facebook page to support the blog, and vice versa.

Suggestions for that are welcome, to this email address:

And, as always, thank you for your support!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stacy Kranitz at the University of California, Irvine

Stacy Kranitz, whose work in Appalachia we discussed in an earlier blog entry, will have a show of her work from her portfolio As It Was Give(n) to Me, opening at the Gallery of the Contemporary Arts Center of the University of California, Irvine, April 24th, 2014, from 6:00 - 9:00 pm.

The show will be on view from noon until 6:00 pm daily through May 2nd, 2014. 

There will be a formal opening of the show with a reception, to be held on Saturday, April 26th, from 2:00 - 5:00 pm.

Kranitz' work combines stunningly beautiful landscapes, sometimes being wantonly destroyed, with rich and visually complex depictions of the people of the region as they worship, party, work, and rest.

The work combines photographs, maps, archival prints, quotations from its subjects, and other materials into an exceptionally rich depiction and interpretation of the region's life.

You can see  a preview of the show here.

Kranitz has already received significant attention to her work; for a sample, see below.

The Oxford American, The Fantasy of Objectivity 
Bag News Notes,The Rape of Appalachia 
The Oxford American. Eyes on the South: Stacy Kranitz
Thought Catalog, Truth and Consequences in Appalachia
Columbia Journalism Review, On the Job, The Outsider
The Believer, Wouldn’t you want to party with a baby?
Feature Shoot, Renegotiating a Complex History – Stacy Kranitz’s Portrait of Central Appalachia

Kranitz is doing exceptionally strong work, well worthy of our regard.

Appalachian Spring -- 2014

Roger May, fast becoming the premier photographer of West Virginia, has just set up a new project called Looking at Appalachia: 50 Years after the War on Poverty.

May's goal is to document, and assess, the depiction of Appalachia in photographs 9See image above),  or, as he puts it, "to explore the diversity of Appalachia and establish a visual counter point [to images formed by previous photographers' focus on the poorest parts of the region]."

"Drawing from a diverse population of photographers within the region, this new crowdsourced image archive will serve as a reference that is defined by its people as opposed to political legislation."

May's own work made in Appalachia has recently been featured on the Bitter Southerner blog, with the title  "A Love Letter to Appalachia," and you can find it here.

May also took part in a recent online symposium  Portraying Appalachia, sponsored by Oxford American Magazine, as a result of viewer response to Stacy Kranitz' portfolio As it Was Give(n) to Me… (see image below) which appeared in January as an entry in the Oxford American’s weekly online photography feature, Eyes on the South, curated by Jeff Rich.

The Oxford American folks said that "Reader response to [Kranitz' work] was fervent and varied."

The result of all that energy was the Symposium, which included portfolios by Kranitz, May, Rob Amberg, and Kate Fowler, all experienced photographers of Applachia.

Kranitz' work is here  (see image above).

Roger May's contribution is here. see image above).

Kate Fowler contributed a portfolio (see image above) on her work with pentecostal ministers who handle serpents as part of their worship services.

Rob Amberg contributed a portfolio of his work in the small town of Sodom Laurel,NC, here (see image below).

The writer Matthew Newton also contributed an essay, here, illustrated by photographs taken by Zoe Strauss and Ross Mantle.

What is most important in each of these entries are the discussions of their work, and of the role of the photographer in the process of making this work.

This is especially poignant in the case of Kate Fowler's work, since Mack, one of the ministers to whom she had become especially close during the course of her project, died of venom poisoning.

Fowler's discussion of her relationship with the minister who died and her understanding of herself as a photographer are worth quoting at some length:

"I feel implicated in and damaged by this tragedy.

"In many ways, I see photography as a tool for accountability. The camera has been co-opted as a weapon in activism, a tool, also, for radical interaction and reflection, and as a means to bearing witness to events that would otherwise be hidden from the mainstream gaze.

"Although photography often falls short in its depiction of war, death, life, and beauty in many forms, it does grant space for the interplay of personal and public fantasy.

"Cameras enable us photographers to experience the world through our own subjective filters, to project our personal emotions—whether sadness, terror, or joy—onto greater works of art. Also, photography itself is an act. It manipulates and alters space and relationships; it threatens and demands certain things from its subjects."

[A journalist for the Washington Post chose to photograph the dying man in his last hours.]

"As [she] shifted from her role as friend and guest to documenter and witness, the structure of events and potential outcomes became limited by her presence—and the implied presence of a greater audience. 

"Photography has this ability: it can influence events through its suggestion of a subjective viewership. As Mack moved toward death and his family navigated the trauma of the circumstances, they had to simultaneously consider the eyes and thoughts of an unpredictable audience. 

"Did this influence Mack’s reluctance to call an ambulance? If there had been no photographers present, would the lack of public accountability have meant he might have gone to the hospital and lived? I can never know the answers to these questions, but what I can know is that photography has power. 

"For nearly a century, this power has been subverted for the sake of entertainment, a form that has been veiled as “news.”  

"Should we burden photography with the responsibility of being an accurate depiction of reality? Are photography’s limitations a failure on the part of the medium, or simply a projection of the public’s desire to manipulate and interpret scenes from another life? 

"Photographs have a double consciousness; they exist within the moment they were taken and transform within the minds of viewers. 

"Photographs are mirrors; yet their reflections change as new viewers shift into frame. Once we regard these certain truths and begin to see photography as mutable, fluid, and transformative, we can understand that viewers themselves are participants in a photograph’s narrative. 

"Similarly, we can regard the significance of an invisible participant in the development of a photograph, just as Mack and his family did on the day of his death. 

"In the aftermath of this project, my work has become increasingly unstable."

All this work brings to the fore important questions about documentation vs advocacy, truth-telling vs making beautiful or arresting images, not to mention the making of art as a form of commerce vs doing right by one's subjects.

Photography in Appalachia is a great site to make these issues available for our reflection.

It has been in the news a great deal lately. We have been reminded of Appalachia both from commentary on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson's declaration of a War on Poverty and from news coverage of the recent chemical spill  into West Virginia's Elk River.

The convergence of these two stories reminds us of the history of the American experience of poverty, and its coverage in the media, and its depiction in photography. The issues are complex; the outcomes are often disturbing.

We had a lively discussion on this blog a while back around the work of Shelby Lee Adams,  who -- depending on your point of view --  is either documenting the lives of people of grit and courage who persevere under difficult circumstances or exploiting for the entertainment of an urban elite the lives of people who from the perspective of the paying customers for Adams' work insist on being strange, eccentric, stubbornly persistent in being different from folks like you and me.

Much, although far from all, of Appalachia is located in the American South, but the relationship between Appalachia and the South of conventional narrative -- the narrative of the Southern Piedmont and coastal plain -- is complex and fraught with tension.

Southern Appalachia is where the planter aristocracy has gone, from time immemorial, to escape the heat of lowland Southern summers. So a good bit of Appalachian culture was built around catering to those folks' needs; to this day one can find in the Southern mountains traces of the most bigoted attitudes toward people of color one can find anywhere.

But Appalachia, as Daniel Sharfstein has documented in The Invisible Line, his study of the color line in American history and culture, has been a place where people of color could sometimes find refuge from the bigotry and racism of lowland folks like my ancestors in Anson County, North Carolina.

Then you have the case of West Virginia, a state created precisely so its residents could escape the defining event of Southern history.

Yet all of Appalachia shares with the rest of the South the complex history of poverty and race in America, intertwined with the even more complex history of the relationship between rural and small town life and the life of urban areas.

Add to that, the complex relationship between poverty, race, and photography. The history of American photography records as a defining moment the work of Walker Evans and other WPA photographers  during the Depression.

The subjects of their attention were the rural poor -- black and white -- of the traditional South.

One of their number, Marion Post Wolcott, made the image above in the late 1930's, outside Wadesboro, NC, the town in which I was born just a few years later.

The 1960's War on Poverty shifted our attention from the rural lowland South to Appalachia, but that was an arbitrary move, since pictures as haunting and disturbing as Wolcott's could have been made in Anson County in the 1960's, or even today, for that matter.

Nor does the chemical spill in West Virginia have only local significance, as the work of Richard Misrach in Cancer Alley in Louisiana should remind us.  I'm hoping photographers in central North Carolina are documenting carefully Duke Power's recent spilling of coal ash in the Dan River.

We have had a tradition in the USA of trading responsible care for the environment for short-term economic gain. Whether the crop is cotton, tobacco or coal, the lure of wealth has led us repeatedly to exploitation of our resources, whether environmental or human.

So its good that folks are attending to Appalachia, and especially that good photographers like Roger May, Rob Amberg, Stacy Kranitz, and Kate Fowler are engged in this project.

We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jerry Siegel at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

Atlanta-based photographer Jerry Siegel (see image above) has a show of his portraits of Southern photographers up at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts through June 1st, 2014.

Siegel has been photographing Southern artists for the past 16 years. He published a collection of this work with the title Facing South: Portraits of Southern Artists in 2012 from the University of Alabama Press.

Now the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (located in the Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park, off Vaughn Road, in Montgomery, AL) has had the exceptionally clever idea of mounting an exhibition of Siegel's images of photographers, pared with the photographs by the photographers he has photographed.

That's a lot of conceptual boxes-within-boxes, but MMFA says of this show, "By providing details such as what the artist looks like or where they work, Siegel creates an important visual record that illuminates the rich art-making culture of the South."

Artists photographed by Siegel with works on view include William Christenberry, Thornton Dial, Sr., Crawford Gillis, Dale Kennington, Charles Shannon, Mose Tolliver, and Yvonne Wells.

Great concept for a show, great work on view, definitely worth a visit if you are in Montgomery.

UPDATED -- A Grab Bag of Events Current and Upcoming -- Spring 2014

1. The fine folks from Pike County, Georgia who run the annual Slow Exposures show of photography about the rural South have just issued their call for submissions for this year's show.

See image above for an example of work from last year's show (Dust Bowl Dance by Tracy Moore of Warner Robbins, GA)

The dates for this year's show are September 19-21 and 26-28, 2014.  This year's jurors are Alexa Dilworth of  Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies and Aline Smithson of the Lens Scratch blog. 

The deadline for submissions this year is June 15th. This is one of the great shows -- and one of the great events -- in Southern fine art photography, well worth your effort to participate. Enter here.

2. And, speaking of shows, the AIPAD Photography Show, which the organizers want us to believe features "the world's leading art galleries," just finished its run at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan.

AIPAD is an acronym for The Association of International Photography Dealers.

There were 84 galleries deemed worthy by the organizers to be listed among the world's leading art galleries this year.

We are pleased to notice that three of these 84 galleries are based in the American South, including, from Houston, the Catherine Couturier Gallery,  from Washington, DC, the Gary Edwards Gallery,
and from Atlanta,  Jackson Fine Art.

3. Columbia, SC-based photographer Eliot Dudik (see image above) is interviewed on, in a section called Mossless Magazine, or Mossless in America, here.

Dudik also has a show of his work at the Irene Carlson Gallery on the campus of the University of La Vergne, in  La Vergne, CA, up now through May 30th, 2014.

4. Dallas-based photographer Brandon Thibodeaux (see image above) now has work from his When Morning Comes portfolio on display at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, CA.

The MoPA would like to buy prints of this image as well as others by Thibodeaux to add to their permanent collection, and you can help by going here.

5. The Ogden Museum in New Orleans has a show called Shadows of History: Photographs of the Civil War from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell (see image above), opening on April 17, and up through July 13, 2014.

Later this year, the Ogden will host an exhibition of the work of Paul Kwilecki (see image above), the photographer who spent over 40 years photographing in Decatur County, Georgia.

The show, called One Place: Paul Kwilecki and Four Decades of Photographs from Decatur County, Georgia, opens at the Ogden on July 24th and will be up through September 21st, 2014 .

6. Anne Wilkes Tucker,  the soon-to-retire Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston,  looks back on her career of 30 years in photography in an interviews in the Wall Street Journal.

7. Washington, DC-based photographer Jared Soares (see image above) has been photographing in Virginia, and work from his Small Town Hip-Hop portfolio is featured in the March 2014 issue of Fraction Magazine.

8. Really interesting interview with Atlanta's Jennifer Schwartz about her current project,  the Crusade Engagement Grant, here, from Lenscratch.  

9. Charlottesville, VA-based photographer Pamela Pecchio (see image above) is opening a show of work from her Habitation portfolio at Richmond, VA's Candela Books + Gallery (214 Broad Street, in Richmond).

This show opens May 2nd with a reception from 5:00 - 9:00 pm on Friday, May 2nd, and is up through June 28, 2014.

10. And, finally, for now, since we last checked, the following Southern photographers have been featured in Jeff Rich's ongoing Eyes on the South feature on the Oxford American website:

Warren Thompson
Jared Ragland

And, yes, I'm catching up!


Friday, April 11, 2014

Bull City Summer -- A Season at the Ball Park -- at the NC Museum of Art

The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh has up now through August 31st a show of photographs entitled Bull City Summer.

Bull City Summer is a fine art photography show about baseball, Southern small-city baseball, minor league baseball.

For those of you not from North Carolina, the Bull City is Durham, where the AAA minor league team the Durham Bulls play baseball in the summertime, in the heart of the city, taking their name from Bull Durham Tobacco, a brand of loose-leaf tobacco manufactured in Durham from the middle of the 19th century until the late 1980's.

The images in this show were made by nine regionally and nationally known artists, including Alec Soth (see second image above), Hank Willis Thomas, Hiroshi Watanabe, Alex Harris (see second image below), Frank Hunter (see image above at the top and image three images below), Kate Joyce (image four images below), Elizabeth Matheson (see image directly above), Leah Sobsey (see the image five images below), and Ivan Weiss (see image directly below).

One or more of these folks photographed at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, NC, during all 72 home games of the Durham Bulls 2013 baseball season.

This convergence of first-class photographers -- and the appearance of their work at the NC Museum of Art -- did not come about by accident.

The summer of 2013 was the 25th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham, certainly the greatest minor league baseball movie -- and arguably the greatest sports movie -- ever made.

The popular success of Bull Durham brought renewed attention to minor-league baseball and contributed significantly to the transformation of downtown Durham, NC, from a semi-wasteland into a thriving, hip, arts-and-dining center, full of galleries, restaurants, farmers markets, theaters, and, of course, the new Durham Bulls Athletic Park (or DBAP, as they call it).

Spring a year ago, with the anniversary of Bull Durham fast approaching, Durham's Sam Stephenson, of Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, saw the opportunity to mark the occasion with a documentary project, to be the inaugural project of his Rock Fish Stew Institute of Literature and Materials.

Stephenson describes the goal of this project as “to converge on the stadium and its surroundings with a team of documentarians and see what we find — ’stories, images‘ — on the field and behind the scenes over the course of a season. If we succeed, there will be a portrait of the art and craft and grit of baseball and the community that revolves around it in downtown Durham.”

Now, baseball comes in games, and games are events that are about wins and losses, and hits, runs, and errors. Baseball as an event is photographed constantly by exceptionally skillful sports photographers, whose work shows up in your local newspaper, and in Sports Illustrated, and on ESPN.

But baseball is also a game that appeals to a cadre of exceptionally talented and well-educated people who can discuss the minutiae of the game and quote Albert Camus in the same conversation.

These folks see in baseball more than a game, more than an ephemeral activity that is a good way to spend a warm summer evening.

For these folks, baseball is more about ritual and metaphor and meaning than it is about beer and hot dogs, or wins and losses.
Stephenson is one of these guys, and he was joined in the organization of this project by another of these guys, Adam Sobsey, a baseball writer who of course is not just a baseball writer, but a playwright, too, and an essayist for the Paris Review, and probably other things as well.

“For me, a baseball game is much more than a series of events and outcomes simply to be reported and disseminated,” Sobsey says. “It’s a cultural object, both by itself and as it interacts with American life, and therefore a subject for documentary art—it invites and demands consideration, elaboration, framing, cropping, coloring and exposure."

These are the kinds of folks who know how to make something distinctive out of the ordinary, how to turn something like minor league baseball into a subject for lengthy essays that they can get published in the Paris Review, as well as how to get heavy hitter photographers like Alex Soth, Hank Willis Thomas, and Hiroshi Watanabe to photograph baseball games in Durham.

So they got organized, and partnered with the folks at Daylight Books, and put together a local team of some of the best photographers in North Carolina, from the glorious Elizabeth Mattheson to the splendid Alex Harris and the brilliant Leah Sobsey, and planned visits by the big gun out-of-towners, and started themselves a blog and a website

From the website, you can see a lot more of the photographs. If you follow these links, you can also read Stephenson's and Sobsey's essays in the Paris Review.

These guys also know how to get things done.  Not only do they have the exhibition at the NC Museum of Art, they have a book coming out, also called Bull City Summer, from Daylight Books.
They will also have another exhibition of this work later this year at the Contemporary Art Museum in downtown Raleigh.

Baseball to these folks is about life, or about particular kinds of obsessions in life, especially the obsession of minor league baseball, which is played in the shadow of the majors.

The photographers they brought in didn't photograph hits, runs, or double plays; they left that to the sports shooters. They photographed the people, the patterns, the lights, the rituals, and the dust marks baseballs leave behind when they hit the walls of the park (see Kate Joyce's image below). 

Bull City Summer is about baseball in the minors, where its all about the game itself, the playing, the setting, the rhythms. Players come and go as their careers take them up or down. No one remembers for long who won or lost.

What endures is the memory of time spent in a place out of time, and an event of endless complexity within a basic simplicity, where one makes one's way from beginning to end with as much grace and dignity as one can muster.

The challenge of the small city baseball fan is to find in the very nature of the minor league game a truer and more honest resource for making sense of life. We, too, are here, now, in this place, and we, too, will fade away, lost and forgotten like the rest.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and some of our dreams may come true, but not all of them, and there comes a time when we have to see, really see, where we are, and who we've become, and what sense we can make of it.

So minor league baseball is about making a virtue of necessity, about elevating the mundane and everyday to a new place by looking closely, by taking care, by making art.

In Bull Durham, the character Crash Davis -- whose days of dreaming about making it to the Show are long past him -- criticizes the young pitcher he is trying to get ready for the Show for not having respect for the game.

That's what comes through these photographs -- an attention to detail, to selection, to arrangement, as well as a respect for the dignity of the subject matter, of the people, and of the ordinary moments in   
their lives.

My sons-in-law, who live in New England and are big fans of the Boston Red Sox, assure me that at Fenway Park, the home of the Show, of real baseball, the baseball that is a multi-billion dollar industry that can capture the attention of a nation -- at Fenway Park there is no mascot who runs the bases with kids, no sign on the wall that flashes lights and blows smoke when someone hits a home run.

From the perspective of minor league baseball, however, the glitz and glamor of the Show are, finally, illusions. As small city baseball fans, we can believe that minor league baseball is real, or at least realer, than the majors, because we can't fool ourselves for long, or at least as long, that this matters as more than a structure for time and place.

And we don't have to pay major league prices to learn that lesson. 

Minor league baseball, small Southern city baseball, is in part about the dream of being in Boston, or Chicago, or San Francisco, or New York, or even Atlanta. But its also about what results when you respect the game, wherever its played.

They've got the Show; we've got the ritual, that and Wool E. Bull.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Southern Photographers in the News, Part 3 -- Early Spring 2014

Eight items of interest --

1. The NC Museum of Art has a new selection of work up in its ongoing Close to Home: A Decade of Acquisitions exhibition, now through August 10th, 2014. 

This round of work continues to reflect the museum's renewed commitment to photography as an art form, and to North Carolina photographers in particular.

This phase of the show includes photographs by NC-based photographers Elizabeth Matheson, Caroline Vaughan, elin oHara slavickDavid Simonton, Bill BambergerCarolyn DeMeritt (see image above), and Rob Amberg.

2. Chapel Hill-based photographer Lori Vrba is opening a show of work from her portfolio Drunken Poet's Dream (see image above) this weekend at Houston's Catherine Couturier Gallery, up through April 26th, 2014.

3. Norfolk, VA-based photographer Matt Eich was a finalist in this year's Aperture Portfolio Prize competition, won finally by a photographer Not From Around Here. Eich's portfolio for this competition is here.

4. Rebekah Jacob Gallery, in Charleston, now has up their annual Somewhere in the South show, through April 15th, 2014.

This year, the show features color photographs of the South by a number of Southern photographers, including past masters William Eggleston and William Christenberry as well as contemporary artists including  Eliot Dudik, Kathleen Robbins, Walker Pickering (see image above), and Susan Worsham.

5. Raleigh-based photogrpaher David Simonton and Hickory-based photographer Aaron Canipe are among photographers recently featured on the American Guide website.

6. Asheville-based photographer Ralph Burns (see image above) has a show up at the Asheville Art Museum, through July 20th, 2014, as well as work on display at Blue Spiral 1, the Asheville craft gallery. 

7. Atlanta-based Crusader for Photography Jennifer Schwartz has published a guide to success in the world of fine art photography, called Crusade for Your Art, which looks to be really helpful in understanding the complex world of shows, galleries, portfolio reviews, festivals, websites, marketing, and social media. Available at your favorite Amazon website.

8. Finally, for now, the following photographers have been featured on Jeff Rich's Eyes on the South blog for the Oxford American magazine, since we last checked:

Robbie McCalarin
Ansley West Rivers
Talbot Easton Selby
Betty Press (see image above)
Aaron Turner
Becky Harland
Houston Colfield (see image below)