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The New South From The Eyes of Our Generation

by Emily Reyna

Stacy Kranitz, Island Road, 2010, From The Island series Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana

“These photographers provide us with privileged access to different worlds that most people would never have access to.”

To have an understanding of the New South, we must come to grips that there is a tension between what we think about the South and what actually is true about this place.

Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South becomes the lens through which we explore these questions and ideas. Presented by The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston and curated by Mark Sloan and Mark Long, Southbound will be on view from October 19, 2018 to March 2, 2019 at both The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and City of Charleston’s City Gallery.

It’s a propitious feeling for both curators to finally present this body of work they have been toiling over these past four and a half years. “Mark and I have worked on various projects together since the early 2000s,” explains Long. “We’re both on the faculty here at College of Charleston—I’m in political science and Mark is school of the arts. One thing that struck us in the conversations we had over the years was the kind of insider/outsider perspective that we brought to this part of the United States. By happenstance we are both here, Mark is a North Carolina boy, and I’m from Ireland originally. Thinking about this place and talking about this place was a constant in our conversation, and gradually we arrived at this idea that it would be a really worthwhile prospect to look at and about photographs of the New South in the early part of the 20th century.”

Susana Raab, Untitled, 2009, From the Natchez series, Natchez, Mississippi

Defining the New South is to come to terms with its effervescent nature—not fixed but ever moving to the beat of each generation. Southbound understands this and embraces the nuanced interpretations of what it means to be Southern. Both Sloan and Long have grappled with this concept so that an honest narrative is presented. “The purpose, the key, the quarry for us throughout has been the study of thinking about the New South,” explains Long. “Thinking and looking at the South through this visual medium that is photography, we used the extensive universe that was out there. We didn’t commission images. We interviewed documentary photographers to fine art photographers. That was the kind of genesis in the first steps of our genealogy.”

In total, the exhibition has 56 photographers—their careers ranging from emergent to celebrated artists—that tell their story of and about the New South. “The project is really image driven,” says Sloan. “It didn’t matter to us at all what their history was. We were more interested in finding artists who had a sustained engagement with a subject or many subjects in the American South. So, for example, there were quite a few photographs we saw that were quite good by The New York Times—photographers that were helicoptered in, dropped in, to [Hurricane] Katrina or some other thing like the BP Oil Spill that made some amazing images—but we were interested in people who came back year after year and those that have had an ongoing engagement with Southern subjects. That was important to everyone.”

© Gillian Laub, Prom Prince and Princess Dancing at the Integrated Prom, 2011, From the Southern Rites series, Lyons, Georgia

Another key facet of artist selection was representing the voices of underrepresented and minority artists. “We worked really hard to make sure the vision we were completing of the South, idiosyncratic as it is, really was one that gave access to people whose voices maybe traditionally weren’t heard,” explains Long.

There are multiple vantage points for the viewer to engage with the subject matter in Southbound. These range from a micro-site reached at, a commissioned documentary from Emmy-award winning filmmaker John David Reynolds, an interactive map of the South by geographic information scientist Dr. Rick Bunch, a curated playlist, a catalog, and accompanying essays that give supporting language around the New South.

Shelby Lee Adams, Martha and Kizzy in Pink Room, 2008, Wolfe Creek, Kentucky

Being immersed in education themselves, both Sloan and Long understand the privilege that comes with the study and practice of photography. They were intentional with how they thought about educational programming for an exhibition as expansive as Southbound. “For the Halsey, we see our role as being a catalyst for discussion and dialogue about issues that are important to society today as a non-collecting contemporary art museum. And so we have educational programs and outreach that we got grant funding to put some of the Southbound photographers in schools,” explains Sloan. In total, there will be three Southbound artists—Rachel Boillot, Titus Brooks Heagins, and John Lusk Hathaway—and one Charleston-based memoirist, Cincelle Barnes, brought to seven Lowcountry schools. Students will have time to explore their own narrative of the New South through documentation processes using photography and writing. “But one of the things we hope comes out of it is a renewed sense of what this South is, the people around us, the richness of it, the diversity of it, and to learn things that they didn’t know before. I think that’s a tall order, but I do think that these photographers provide us with privileged access to different worlds that most people would never have access to. We hope the exhibition will introduce people to Southern cultures and individuals, landscapes, and places.”

Lucas Foglia, Andrew and Taurine Drinking Raw Goat’s Milk, 2009, From the A Natural Order series,Tennessee

Theirs is not an empty hope—there are already discussions reverberating through the city, specifically a three-part lecture series presented by Camera Works Cafe and Redux Contemporary Art Center in partnership with the Halsey. Created by Mark Stetler, Camera Works Cafe’s focus on presenting an open dialogue for the arts community about photography will culminate with lectures from Southbound photographers John Lusk Hathaway and Michelle Van Parys.

The body of work is curated alphabetically, A-K at the Halsey and L-W at the City Gallery—the presentation running secondary to the subject matter. The subject matter leaves people with the space to ponder the dimensions of the New South they potentially have never engaged with before. Long argues the effect would be a renewed appreciation for our shared region. “This is a chance for people to see newfound political power around African American activists. This is a chance for people to see the influence of the Latino population and culture in the South. This is an opportunity for people to see urban change. One thread that even emerges in the exhibition is the looming environmental crisis and climate change. That’s all in the exhibition,” says Long.

Preston Gannaway, Untitled (Tent Family), 2013, From the Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea series, Ocean View, Norfolk, Virginia

Though Southbound encompasses a wide variety of work by a diverse group of artists, it’s important to remember it is singularly representative of the first part of the 21st century—essentially from the early 2000s until today. The New South will again change, and today will become history. “There is really no way to be comprehensive or complete in the sense. It’s never over,” says Sloan. “We’re not pretending or presenting this as if it is any kind of comprehensive survey because that is really an impossible task.”

Southbound asks the question back to you, what does the New South mean to you?

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Posted in Visual on November 1, 2018 (Fall 2018) by Matt Mill.

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