Monday, July 24, 2017

Frank Simmons and John Stewart -- Honorary Southern Photographers

The New York Times LENS Blog has recently brought us work by Frank Stewart (see image above, made in Memphis) and John Simmons (see image below, made in Nashville), two major African-American photographers from Chicago who, beginning in the 1960's, made important work all over the world, and in the American South as well.

The NY Times profile gives us the background of these photographers' early beginnings in Chicago, their development as photographers, and their current joint show of work at the Wilmer Jennings Gallery and the Kenkeleba Gallery, both on New York’s Lower East Side. 

Really interesting to see these folks' work, especially to see together their work made in the American South alongside their work made in Chicago, in Los Angeles, in NYC, and across Africa.

This show opened on June 4th (sorry for being slow to get it on the blog!) but you can still see it if you are in NYC, because it's up through July 29th, 2017.  

To make up for my tardiness in bringing attention to this important show, I'll give you a bit more of the NY Times' profile:

“You didn’t get a whole lot of history lessons about African-American culture in school,” Mr. Stewart said. “My work is culturally motivated. I wanted to know where these polyrhythms, the roots of the foods and this rich cultural history came from.” 

"Over the last five decades, Mr. Stewart’s photographs — whether made in New Orleans, New York or the Ivory Coast — have explored the culture and traditions that were “carried by the slaves, and kept intact in some places and morphed into something else, like jazz, in others,” he explained.

"Many of the images in the show were taken in the late 1960s and early ’70s, a time, Mr. Simmons said, of “hippies, artists, poets and antiwar protests.” He remembers “wearing a beret, listening to jazz” and wanting to be “a creative spirit” and express himself through photography. 

 (Archie Shepp in Nashville, photo by John Simmons)

"The pair both trace their careers to the influence of Robert Sengstacke, a photographer whose family owned The Chicago Defender, one of the country’s most prominent black weekly newspapers. Mr. Sengstacke taught them how to be photographers and even arranged for Mr. Simmons to work with him at the paper. 

"When Mr. Sengstacke became an artist-in-residence at Fisk University in Nashville, he arranged for Mr. Simmons to get a scholarship and to be his assistant there. Mr. Stewart received a track scholarship to Middle Tennessee State, a few miles down the road from Fisk, and the three Chicago natives spent time together. 

"Mr. Simmons studied painting and filmmaking in school, received an M.F.A. in cinematography at U.S.C. and works on documentary films and television shows. He is based in Los Angeles and is a vice president of the American Society of Cinematographers as well as an adjunct professor at U.C.L.A. 

"Mr. Stewart devoted his life to photography and moved to New York to learn from Roy DeCarava, who arranged for his protégé to study at Cooper Union. Granted, Mr. Stewart said that a life in photography has not always been financially easy. 

“When I first started, all I had in my apartment was a table, a chair, an enlarger, a mattress and a Leica camera with a 50 mm lens,” Mr. Stewart recalled.
"With a shoestring budget, partially provided by two National Endowment for the Arts grants, Mr. Stewart bought monthly bus tickets, which he used to travel throughout the country documenting African-American communities. 

"He also photographed multiple times in Cuba and in Africa. He worked for the Studio Museum of Harlem as well as for the artist Romare Bearden before becoming a photographer for Jazz at Lincoln Center. 

"Mr. Simmons worked steadily as a cinematographer on films and television shows and continued taking still images. But he did not publicly share his photographs much until last year. They did, however, play a very important part of his life, he said. Photographs are “reflective of the culture that we live,” he said.

“Every time the shutter is released I feel like we bring our entire life to that,” he said. 

“The interesting thing is to be able to take the most common seemingly insignificant moment and preserve it. Then it takes on a life of its own.”

"Just as photography changed their lives, both men have been deeply involved in mentoring and paying forward what Mr. Sengstacke and others did for them. 

“The camera gave a direction to our lives,” Mr. Stewart said. “It took us off the streets, took us to college and gave both of us a responsibility to ourselves and our community.”

Much to learn in the work of both Mr. Steward and Mr. Simmons. 

I'm happy to include them both on my list of Honorary Southern Photographers.

Southern Photography Festivals -- October 2017

October, in central North Carolina, brings us CLICK! the Triangle Photography Festival, running from October 1st through 30th in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the surrounding communities.

The folks behind Click! started small, but full of ambition. And they keep growing!

This year, they bring us a new logo (see image above), photo exhibits across the region, a portfolio review, lectures by Anne Wilkes-Tucker, Louie Palu, and Matthew Brandt, and workshops with Louie Palu and Mary Virginia Swanson.

A special feature of this years Click! fest is Click! 120, running from October 4th - 8th, 2017, an intensive 5 day period of activities that focus, as the Click! folks say, "on exceptional photo-based works and artists that celebrate the medium of photography and its cultural influence."

They go on: "These 120 hours will feature Keynote addresses, Portfolio Reviews, Workshops, Art Bus Tours, Panel Discussions, Artist Talks, Gallery and Museum openings and so much more"

Plans for this year's activities are still unfolding, so keep checking back to their website, here, for all the details.

October, in Georgia, of course brings us what my father would call the Daddy Rabbit of Southern Photography festivals -- Atlanta Celebrates Photography --which started out being about the month of October but now starts in September and continues long past the end of the month.

In fact, programming by ACP has really become a year-round activity in Atlanta.

ACP also has a new logo this year (see image above), as well as a blog, here.

The major focus of ACP is still the month of October, clustering in that month all the lectures, workshops, portfolio review,  and gallery and museum shows that anyone could ask for.

So, in October, between the Research Triangle region of North Carolina and the booming city of Atlanta, we have so much good photography to see, so many learned speakers to hear, so many events to take part in! 

But there is of course more to come. Check back for news of more on festivals later in the fall.

The life of the Southern Photographer is full, and good.

Friday, July 21, 2017

SlowExposures -- September 2017

Given today's hot weather -- a predicted high of 97 degrees here in Raleigh -- it's hard to believe that cooler nights and the splendor of autumn color are all just around the corner.

But so it is, and thoughts of autumn remind us that the fall photography festival season is also about to begin.

Leading off, of course, will be the most Southern of festivals, SlowExposures, this year open from September the 14th through the 17th in Pike County, Georgia.

I had the good fortune to have work in SlowExposures a few years ago, and went to Pike County for the opening. 

There was a great party, I met lots of folks, and the show itself was so strong that I felt truly honored to have work there.

That experience helped me realize that there was a renaissance of photography going on in the South, and that realization had a lot to do with the creation of this blog.

SlowExposures continues to grow and mature, having expanded beyond its original format to include pop-up shows, shows by participants in the SlowAIR program, and by young photographers, and much, much more. 

This year's schedule includes the following:

♦  The Main Exhibition, at Stricklands in Concord

And the following Satellite Shows:

♦  2016 Paul Conlan Prize winner:  d. b. Waltrip, with her show Of Mud and Men, at Stricklands in Concord

♦  “Inspired Georgia” at the Whiskey Bonding Barn in Molena

♦  Photography by Ryan Steed at A Novel Experience in Zebulon

♦  Photography by Doug Eng at the beautiful barn at Split Oak Farm in Zebulon

♦  PopUp Show by our SlowAIR photographers, David McCarty and Claudia Smigrod, at the Eliot Helms’ Tenant House

♦  Tour of other Popup Shows in various locations around Pike County

Arnika Dawkins and I had the challenge -- and the pleasure -- of jurying this year's SlowExposures Unplugged show. 

We had over 800 photographs to review, and could have chosen far more than our allotted 75 images without any diminution in the quality of the images. Making our final choices was really tough!

The practice of Southern photography always risks producing work that we've seen before, or that privileges one facet of Southern culture over another, or that accepts unquestioningly the pastoral surface rather than evoke the tangled web of history that lies beneath.

Nancy McCrary, the editor of SxSE Photomagazineonce wrote that she had "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." 
I'm sure she's right, and I hate to tell her, but we chose some of those for this show. 

But, as she also admits, "the American South is reflected in all of these."  

While freshness and originality in choice of subject matter are important, the issue is, with those "moonlight and magnolias" subjects, how the photographer shows the familiar, and what kind of conversations the image provokes, and what position the image puts us in as its viewers.

We did try to avoid the two big bugaboos of Southern photography -- clichéd subject matter and sentimental treatment.

And, I sincerely believe, the work we have chosen, even when the subject is among the ones on Nancy's list, engages, and helps us make meaning of, the paradoxes of  history and the complex culture and the physical conditions of living in the American South, in our day. 

But Arnika and I will be in Pike County this September, and you can tell us then what you make of the choices we made. 

The full schedule of events for ths year's SlowEX is here. The list of exhibitors in the juried show is here

So much to look forward to in Pike County, Georgia, in mid-September!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

South Carolina Week on Lenscratch

This is South Carolina Week on Lenscratch, a series of portfolios by photographers working in South Carolina, part of Lenscratch's ongoing States Project.

Lenscratch is releasing one portfolio a day, and we will try to keep up. So check back often!

The first featured photographer is Lexington, VA-based photographer Meg Griffiths (see image above). You will find her work on Lenscratch here

Griffiths is also the organizer and editor of all the portfolios featured this week from South Carolina. 

Also representing South Carolina this week is Conway, SC-based (but soon moving to Reno, Nevada) photographer Tracy Fish (see image above), profiled here, on Lenscratch

Charleston, SC-based photographer John Lusk Hathaway (see image above) is also representing South Carolina this week, profiled here, on Lenscratch

Columbia, SC-based photographer Ashley Kauschinger (see image above) is also part of South Carolina week, with her portfolio here, on Lenscratch

Bringing South Carolina Week on Lenscratch to a close is Charleston-based photographer Michelle Van Parys (see image above), with her portfolio, here.

Congratulations to the featured photographers, and to Meg Griffiths, who pulled all this together and provided helpful profiles of the photographers she invited to be part of this celebration of South Carolina photography.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Updated -- Southern Photographers in AINT-BAD Magazine

AINT BAD Magazine has come a long way from the days of its origins in Savannah, Georgia, where it was based in the SCAD community. 

Nowadays, we are more likely to find the work of photographers from all over the world than we are work by Southern photographers. 

But our colleagues in the American South do show up from time to time, and its worth noticing when they do. 

Recently, for example, AINT BAD has featured work by the Dallas-based photographer Marissa Chavez (see image above).

 Rural Georgia-based based photographer Michael Wriston (see image above), 

Also, Greenville, SC-based Katie Fenske (see image above), with her portfolio, here

Also, North Carolina based photographer Jefferson Lankford (see image above), with three appearances, here, here, and here,

New Orleans-based photographer Akasha Rabut (see image above), 

 Atlanta-based photographer Ben B. Lee (see image above),

NYC-based but South Carolina born photographer Courtney Garvin (see image above),

Douglasville, GA-based photographer Jack Deese (see image above),

Baton Rouge, LA-based photographer Lily Brooks (see image above),

New Orleans-based photographer Richard McCabe (see image above),

Dallas-based photographer Rachel Cox (see image above),

Myrtle Beach, SC-based photographer Tracy Fish (see image above),

and Eastern Shore of Maryland-based photographer Harrison Albert (see image above).

You can also see Kelia Albert's photographs of St Patrick's Day in Savannah, go here,

and read a profile of Savannah-based AINT BAD editor Anna Brody (see image above), go here.

Much to keep up with, from the good folks at AINT BAD Magazine.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Southern Women Photographers in the News

The New York Times [LENS] blog brings news of a forthcoming publication entitled MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora. 

Among the photographs by Southern photographers included in this volume is work by Atlanta-based photographer Akili-Casundra Ramsess (see image above) and by Atlanta-based photographer Sheila Pree Bright  (see image below).

Also featured in MFON is work made in the South, in Arkansas, by New York-based photographer Nina Robinson (see image below).

Robinson's work in Arkansas has previously been featured on the NYTimes [LENS] blog, here. 

Also featured in MFON is work made in the South, in Memphis, by New York-based photographer Kameelah Janan Rasheed (see image above).

You can support the publication of MFON and order your own copy by going here.

Also having work published lately -- and on a topic related to the work featured above, is Lexington, KY-based photographer Sarah Hoskins (see image above), whose photographs of African-American residents of Appalachia appear in Politico Magazine, go here.

Katelyn Fossett, writing in Politico, notes that because of its racial diversity, the town of Lynch, KY stands in stark contrast to the rest of the region.

Fossett says that "In the early 20th century, when the coal industry was booming across Appalachia, coal companies used labor agents to recruit a racially and ethnically diverse labor supply for the mines." 

"Now," writes Fossett, "after a decades-long decline in the coal industry, many of those black families have left for urban centers on the coasts, leaving behind shells of former coal towns. Lynch, Kentucky, with its mere 800 residents left behind from the collapse of coal and the resulting out-migration, is one such community."

Hoskins, a photographer with experience documenting black communities in Kentucky, was invited to Lunch last year by Karida Brown, a sociologist at UCLA and descendant of black coal miners from Lynch, who has spent years conducting oral history interviews with black residents and former residents of Lynch and the surrounding area.

The portrait of Lynch, and of Appalachia, that Hoskins gives us in these images is "much more complicated than what she had heard and read about the region." 

You can find more of Hoskins' work in Kentucky on her website, here.  

PDN on Photographing Others’ Cultures with Sensitivity and Respect

Southern photographers are constantly challenged by ethical issues around whom, and for whom, they photograph people different from them in race, class, locale, or culture.

Shelby Lee Adams (see image above), for example, makes lots of his images among poor rural folks who live in Appalachia. 

Most of the people who see his images, however, are middle-class, urban folks interested enough in the arts to go to museums and galleries or to read university-based magazines about Southern culture. 

To some folks, Adams' work brings to our attention the basic humanity of his subjects and inspires political action to enhance the economic opportunities available to people who choose to live in rural parts of the USA.

To other folks, Adams' work exemplifies "poverty porn," exploiting the vulnerabilities of poor rural folks and appropriating their cultural choices to provide gallery-going urban folks the chance to feel smugly superior to the subjects of Adams' work. 

In the current issue of Photo District News, four photographers discuss these issues, based their own personal practice.

The feature is entitled "You’re Not from Around Here: Photographing Others’ Cultures with Sensitivity and Respect."

Featured photographers include the following:

Eirik Johnson on photographing portraits of the homeless. 

Jason Houston on Working with First Nations Communities.

Danielle Villasana on Capturing Portraits of Transgender Women

Tasneem Alsultan on Photographing Everyday Life in Saudi Arabia

All these folks believe their work among the "other" is important work, so they are in favor of doing it, but their discussions about how they came to terms with their practice are helpful, challenging, and often provocative.

Well worth the attention of the Southern Photographer!