WHAT: “Picturing the South”
WHEN: Through September 2, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10am-5pm, Thursday 10am-8pm, Sunday noon-5pm.
WHERE: The High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree Street, Atlanta.
WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: For the 16th installment of the High Museum of Art’s “Picture the South” exhibition, which began in 1996 for Atlanta’s Olympic Games, photographers Martin Parr, Kael Alford, and Shane Lavalette have turned their cameras towards America’s Southern states, capturing the daily lives, hardships, and surroundings of the people there. Each year the museum commissions photographers to create work inspired by the American South, which serves the dual purpose of simultaneously boosting the museum’s holdings and providing fresh contemporary works for summer exhibitions that feature prominent emerging and established artists, with past participants like Sally Mann, Dawoud Bey, Alex Webb, and Alec Soth.
This year, Parr’s photographs combine humor and the non-objective perspective of an outsider to create a heartfelt American romanticism focused on subjects like waitresses, the quintessential foods of a state fair, and tailgating traditions. Parr’s subjects are always displayed in action, his characters inseparable from their narrative.
Lavalette presents much more somber and meditative views of his subjects, choosing to concentrate on the relationships between Southern music and the modern landscape. He shows locations that were formerly frequented but now sit empty, like the one-too-many-times scrawled upon and now unoccupied bar table in “Ground Zero” (2010). The photograph testifies to the ghostly presence of the local population. His portraits of people project the same stillness, as they appear mostly alone, absorbed in thought or enraptured by music.
Lastly, Alford’s documentation of the marshlands in Louisiana impacted by coastal erosion and environmental disaster take their cues from Catherine Opie and Dorthea Lange, with a piercingly tight focus and a prevailing spirit.
“Picture the South” strives to offer a varied but balanced perspective of a tremendously diverse population and landscape, and succeeds by providing three vastly different angles of vision. Together they make up a perceptive vista that is definitively American.
To see photographs from the exhibition, click the slide show.