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A newly scanned photo from Mississippi.  I’m not sure if it will make it into the finished series… 

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In the introduction to Deep South, Sally Mann writes: The repertoire of the Southern artist has long included place, the past, family, death, and dosages of romance that would be fatal to most contemporary artists. But the stage on which these are played out is always the Southern landscape, terrible in its beauty, in its indifference.

Yesterday was one of those days when I’m reminded why I love being a photo educator.  The Photography: Southeast show opened at school (in the McMaster Gallery). Two of the exhibition’s photographers, Nancy Floyd and my dear friend Sam Wang, traveled to Columbia to participate in a panel discussion on Southern photography.  

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Nancy Floyd, From: “She’s Got a Gun”

Following the reception Nancy and I met some of the photo students at my house, and Nancy was kind enough to sit down with each of them to discuss their work.  It was such a genuine exchange- she spent a generous amount of time looking at their work and offering feedback and encouragement, and it was clear that she enjoyed it.  

As for the panel, I’d been looking forward to the discussion for months.  As the James Lipton of the group, I posed a series of questions about Southern photography, and I was interested to hear from Nancy and Sam, both non-Southern Southern photographers (relocated to the South, but not raised here).  There was some debate over whether there still remains a regionally specific aesthetic.  I’m not sure these labels really matter, but I am interested in the issue of perspective.  Is there a difference in the way we view “Southern photography” in the South vs. outside of the South? Is there a difference between the self-image created by photographers who have grown up in the South, and the “outsider” image created by non-Southern photographers who have relocated to the South?  


the blackbirds

20Jan08

Decades ago, my grandfather planted cane around the houses to provide privacy from the open cotton fields.  The canebrake, dense and as tall as the magnolia trees, is where the blackbirds roost.  Every winter they arrive by the thousands, and their droppings soon coat the yard and the trees. I’ve tried to describe to friends what this experience (the odor, the noise) is like, but it is pretty unimaginable.  

During the winter of 2001, my brother, Steele, and I both returned home to live on the farm (He stayed. I left.) During that first winter, he tried to frighten them away with shotgun blasts and air canons.  Nothing worked, and now, the birds have become an inevitable part of our holiday experience.  

This was shot a few weeks ago in the field behind my brother’s house. 

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I’m back from Mississippi and back in the classroom.  No more cooking with lard. No more shotgun blasts echoing in the distance. No more swarms of blackbirds. No more funny-peculiar photographs. (not for a few months, anyway). Today was the first day of class, and Tricia made me eat a little crow for neglecting the blog over the holidays. My only excuse is that I was consumed by shooting and editing, which always happens between semesters. I’ll try to do better.
A few new pics from Christmas in Mississippi…

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christmas past

25Dec07

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Last spring, I was invited to participate in Palmetto Portraits, a project organized by the Medical University of South Carolina, the Halsey Institute, and the State Museum of South Carolina, which attempts to create a sort of photographic survey of people throughout South Carolina. I’ve largely avoided photographing people outside of my immediate family, and I’ve never been eager to approach strangers with a camera (there is nothing more uncomfortable). However, I was excited to be part of a collaborative photographic survey.
Since becoming involved with Palmetto Portraits, I’ve met some very cool South Carolina photographers. I thought I’d share some of their work from the project.
Nancy Marshall’s photographs linger in my memory and make me feel a little gloomy (like a favorite book on a dreary day). I have a habit of making up stories about photographs and upon seeing this image…
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…. I thought we might be friends. I don’t know anything for certain about her, but in my imagination she’s serious and grounded with a romantic spirit. Nancy’s portraits are shot with an 8×10 camera and exhibited as platinum prints, so you can imagine that the image on screen, though beautiful, can’t compare to the fabulousness of the print.
Here are a few more favorites from Nancy Marshall:
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My friend, Sam Wang, is also a Palmetto Portraitist. There is something uncharacteristically quirky about Sam’s portraits that I like. The subjects seem strangely out of place in the circle. I hope he continues it…

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Ultimately, what can a portrait survey like this tell us about a particular people, place and time? Somehow, it seems significant that we should create this archive now, when we are so uncertain about life. It might be revealing to study these images many years from now, after reaching some sort of understanding and (oh, please, please, please) recovering from the post 9-11 political climate.
The present Palmetto Portrait collection (it’s ongoing) is brave, authentic, strange, familiar, and heartbreakingly beautiful. The other participating photographers are Caroline Jenkins, Vennie Deas-Moore, Milton Morris, Nancy Santos, Phil Moody, Jack Alterman, Mark Sloan, Jon Holloway, Michelle VanParys, Squire Fox, Cecil Williams, Julia Lynn, Blake Praytor, Ruth Rackley, and Gayle Brooker. If you are in Charleston, stop by MUSC and check it out.