Tuesday, January 13, 2015

UPDATED -- Gordon Parks on Segregated America

The revered American photographer Gordon Parks, who died in 2006, had a long and distinguished career as a photographer who transcended many barriers to the full inclusion of people of color in America, including his work as a photographer for Vogue and Life.

Parks' lesser-known images have caught the attention of curators at several museums and galleries which, in their shows of Parks' work, have drawn on images made during Parks' time as a staff photographer for Life Magazine, many of which have not previously been exhibited or published. 

These shows document, in powerful images, the look and feel, as well as the cost, of segregated America.  They also remind us powerfully that the legacy (and continuing cost) of racism in America is a national, not simply a Southern, issue.

The High Museum in Atlanta has up now a show of Parks' work, called Gordon Parks: Segregation Story (see image above), drawing on a portfolio of work Parks created for a 1950s Life magazine article on the daily life and struggles of a multigenerational family living in segregated Alabama.

The work in this show (see image above) takes me back to the South I grew up in, and powerfully reconnects me to that sense of shame and disgust I remember feeling when I got old enough to understand the world my ancestors had made. 

Parks' show is up at the High through June 7th, 2015. 

Also, in Atlanta, Jackson Fine Art has just opened a show of Parks' work, also called Segregation Story (see image above), up at the gallery through March 14th, 2015.

The show at the Studio Museum in Harlem, up from Nov 11, 2012 - Jun 30, 2013, with the title A Harlem Family featured about thirty black and white photographs (see image above) of the Fontenelle family, whose lives Parks documented as part of a 1968 Life magazine photo essay. 

The Studio Museum called the work, appropriately, "a searing portrait of poverty in the United States."

 Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will open a show of Parks' work, made in his home town in Kansas, entitled Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott, on January 17th, up through September 15th, 2015. 

Parks made this body of work in 1950, returning to his hometown in Kansas to make a series of photographs he intended to accompany an article in Life Magazine but was never actually published.  

Parks, according to the folks at the MFA, "used this assignment to revisit early memories of his birthplace, many involving serious racial discrimination, and to reconnect with childhood friends, all of whom had attended the same all-black grade school as Parks."

As the MFA points out, this work -- like the work on offer at the Studio Museum and the High Museum -- "represents a rarely seen view of everyday lives of African American citizens, years before the Civil Rights movement began in earnest."

Parks' work reminds us powerfully of the ongoing agendas of Southern history and culture, and the central role that photography has had, and continues to play, in the ways we address those agendas. 

You can see more of Parks' work by going to the websites of his Foundation, here, and his Museum, here.  You can read more about Parks' work in the Guardian, here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

S[x]SE for Winter 2015 -- the Love and War Issue

The latest issue (Volume X, Issue 1) of South by South East (S[x]SE) Photography Magazine is now out for winter 2015, and it has all the fine photography and engaging features we have come to expect from S[x]SE.

Editor Nancy McCrary says,  if you are interested in photography from "Miami to Washington, Dallas to Savannah," she's "got you covered." 

S[x]SE, McCrary says, brings us everything about photography in the Southeast, from "gallery shows to museum exhibitions, book reviews, photo festivals, the best of the blogs written about Southern photography, interviews with gallery directors, photographers, museum curators and collectors of the South, along with articles and galleries of the featured artists."

This issue of S[x]SE is about Love and War, and features (in the Love section) the work of Laura Noel (see image at top, above), Heather Perera (see image directly above), and Alex Leme  (see image directly below).  

The War section features work by distinguished Southern photographer Burk Uzzle (see image below), Jeremy Lock (see image below Uzzle's), and Paul Hagedorn (see image below Lock's).

The issue also includes interviews by Jerry Atnip with Elisabeth Biondi of Master Photography Retreat and Jennifer King of Jennifer King Workshops, and by Judy Sherrod with photography collectors Connie and Jerry Rosenthal. 

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

To subscribe, to do the right thing, go here.

Don't put it off any longer. We Southern photographers need to support our basic institutions.

You know you should subscribe. You know it, you really do.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Was Robert Rauschenberg a Southern Photographer?

Duke University's Nasher Museum of Art has up through this weekend a retrospective show of work by the distinguished American artist Robert Rauschenberg.

One of the things I learned from this show is about Rauschenberg's long career as a photographer, a career grounded in his time as a student at Black Mountain College, in Black Mountain, NC, just east of Asheville.

The catalogue for this show -- which the Nasher happily includes in full on its website, go here -- includes a long and thorough essay entitled "Rauschenberg’s Photography: Documenting and Abstracting the Authentic Experience," by Guest Curator Lauren Acampora, go here.

Acampora notes that the beginnings of Rauschenberg's career as an artist lie in the study of photography, which he began while a student of
photographer Hazel Larsen Archer at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1951. 

Larsen Archer took this photograph (see above) of Rauschenberg while he was her student at Black Mountain College. Interestingly, the College has an extensive website devoted to her work at Black Mountain, here. 

While at Black Mountain, Rauschenberg was also exposed to the work of visiting professors Harry Callahan, Arthur Siegel, and Aaron Siskind. 

Rauschenberg continued to practice photography for a number of years. In fact, his first major recognition as an artist came in January of 1952, when Edward Steichen purchased two of Rauschenberg’s photographs for the Museum of Modern Art in New York: Untitled (Interior of an Old Carriage) (1949) and Untitled (Cy on Bench) (1951).

In the mid-1950's, Rauschenberg gave up photography to concentrate on his painting, only to return to it a few years later, as he found ways to incorporate his photographs into large mixed media compositions such as the one below, Untitled (1984).

As Acampora notes, Rauschenberg believed he never gave up being a photographer, both through incorporating photographic images into his paintings and multi-media works and through photography alone.

His engagement with photography finally resulted in his mounting, in 1981, a major show of over a hundred of his photographs, entitled Rauschenberg Photographe, in an exhibition organized by curator Alain Sayag at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Acampora demonstrates Rauschenberg's engagement with photography throughout his career, from its beginning to the end, in multi-medial works like the one above, from the late 1990's. 

She also gives a detailed account of the techniques Rauschenberg used to incorporate his photographs into his paintings and suggests that using photographs enabled Rauschenberg to introduce into his works an extended consideration of time, of the relationship between the ephemerality of the moment documented in the photograph and the traditional view that art transcends the temporal.

There is a lot more very thoughtful discussion in Acampora's essay of Rauschenberg's use of photography in his work, so much that I can't begin to cover it all here. 

I strongly recommend Acampora's essay to you, and encourage you to see the show at the Nasher, if you are able, before it closes on tJanuary 11th. 

I can say that from the perspective of Rauschenberg's practice as a photographer, his work looks even more ground-breaking and radically experimental than it does when we think of it as a development in the history of painting. 

Thinking of Rauschenberg chiefly as a painter obscures his radicalism as a photographer, and as a Southern one, at that.

Southern Photographers in the News -- UPDATED, January, 2015

Here we are, in 2015, and here are some of the things that happened in the world of Southern fine art photography while we were away. 

1. The Bitter Southerner published a great story called "Pictures of Us," about the Do Good Fund and its collection of Southern photography, go here.\

2. Lenscratch has a feature story by Aline Smithson on Jeff Rich and his Watershed portfolio, here. 

3. Sumner, MS-based photographer Maude Clay (see image above) was named one of "50 People Who Are Changing the South in 2015" by Southern Living magazine, go here.

4. Honorary Southern Photographer Eugene Richards' book Red Ball of a Sun Slipping Down was named one of the outstanding photograph books of 2014 by the editors at Photo District News, go here.

5. Atlanta-based superwoman Jennifer Schwartz had her book Crusade for Your Art chosen by Elizabeth Avedon as one of the Best Photography Books of 2014, go here. 

Schwartz also curated an exhibition of Portrait Photography, called Faces of Fraction, for Fraction Magazine, go here.

Good to see the work of a number of Southern photographers among Schwartz' selections, including images by Noelle McCleaf, Susan Worsham (see image above), and Honorary Southern Photographer Myra Green.

6. California-based but North Carolina born photographer McNair Evans' book Confessions for a Son was the subject of a feature story in Photo District News, go here.

7. Nashville-based arts writer Mary Addison Hackett attended PhotoNOLA in New Orleans back in December and wrote about her visit on the website of the Nashville Scene blog, here. 

Hackett was, as she says, "drawn to works using the South as a backdrop,"  and was especially taken by the work of Tamara Reynolds, Nic Persinger, Rebecca Drolen, Jeanine Michna-Bales, and Eliott Dudik. 

8. You still have time to see work by Mississippi-based photographers Don Norris (see image above),  Marcus Frazier, and Milly West in a show of work by Mississippi artists at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, MS, up now through January 25th, 2015. 

9. Atlanta's High Museum of Art is opening a show of work by the distinguished American photographer Helen Levitt, called Helen Levitt: In the Street. The show opens January 10th, and is up through May 31st, 2015. 

Levitt is mostly associated with the streets of New York City, but, we learn from the High, she also photographed extensively in Savannah, GA, and some of that work will be in the show at the High.

10. Kat Kiernan(see image above) , formerly a gallery owner in Lexington, VA but now working in NYC at the Louis Meisel Gallery, has a solo show of her own work opening at the Sierra Arts Foundation Gallery in Reno, NV.  

The show features work from Kiernan's Between Earth and Water portfolio, opening January 10th and up through February 6th, 2015.

Kiernan reports on her year after moving to NYC and on her success with the magazine Don't Take Pictures, here.

11. And while we are on the subject of galleries, the new year also brought sad news that the Wiljax Gallery for Southern Photography in Cleveland, MS, closed its doors for good in Mid-December. 

The Wiljax Gallery in Cleveland had been open for 16 years, and its true that Things Run Their Course, and that All Good Things Must Come to an End, and that Bills Need to be Paid, and that People Move On.

But, still, one dreams of a time when places like Cleveland, MS, could support and sustain a place like Wiljax for the long as well as the short term.

Photography on the Internet is a Fine Thing, and we are richer for it, but there is no substitute for the look and feel and experience of a print. 

A photograph on one's computer screen lacks the dimensionality of a print.  A print has depth and substance and texture. It represents the fulness of a photograph's reality.

You get that in a gallery. 

And a gallery is a cultural institution, a place of gathering, and inspiration, and community formation. 

Maybe in a place like Atlanta photography galleries can come and go and the impact is not dramatic.

But in the smaller cities, when a gallery folds up, there is a tear in the cultural fabric that is hard to repair.

We had a photography gallery here in Raleigh for several years, and it nourished the local community of photographers as well as providing an outlet for our work. It closed, and has not been replaced. 

We are the poorer for that.

One hopes that places like Cleveland, or for that matter, any of the towns and smaller cities in the South, can be their own places, alongside the Atlantas and the Nashvilles, and the Charlottes, as incubators for folk's energy and creativity and celebration of the arts.

That time is not yet. But we can still dream.