Photographic stories of the South

For the past 14 years the annual photography event Atlanta Celebrates Photography has both reflected the city’s photographic treasures back to itself while also performing a valuable related mission: pushing the genre forward.

Photo stars from Harry Callahan to Chris Verene to Roe Ethridge have all at one time called Atlanta home, and photography has always occupied a special niche in the local art scene. Perhaps it’s because photography, with its storytelling properties, is such a perfect fit in the narrative-oriented South.

This year’s ACP — a series of lectures, exhibitions and events — features a roster of big-name lectures by the likes of Joel Sternfeld who delivers the keynote address at the High Museum of Art, and a number of smaller exhibitions devoted to up-and-comers in the genre.

A look at the highlights:

A Photographic Legend

In a career spanning almost 40 years, New York-based photographer Joel Sternfeld has offered up fascinating portraits of the contradictions and pecularities of American life in a notable range of work including documentary portraits that depict tourists, bikers, Atlanta maids, school kids and bikini beauty contestants. His landscape studies are equally accomplished, occasionally haunting and often make America look like a frozen diorama in a natural history museum. One of the first photographers to use color photography when black and white was seen as the true “art” photography, Sternfeld will speak about his work on Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. at the High Museum’s Hill Auditorium (reserved free seating available by calling the Woodruff Arts Center Box Office at 404.733.5000).

Film Portraits of Two Influential Artists

Some photographers create work that is fascinating to look at, but that also makes you yearn to know more about how their photographs came about. Gregory Crewdson is one of those talents, a highly influential artist known for his filmic style and photographs that look like frozen moment from a bigger story. In Crewdson’s eerie David Lynch style images, small town life feels deeply haunted. Director Ben Shapiro’s documentary “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters,” peers into Crewdson’s process in the quiet communities outside of New York and how he pulls of his highly complex images, with shoots that feature lights, cranes and the kind of extensive crew that suggests a film shoot. Other photographers including Laurie Simmons testify to both the perfectionism and psychological uneasiness of his work. Shapiro will make a special appearance at this nicely-paired double-feature which includes a documentary devoted to photographer Alec Soth who often shoots marginal people including hermits, survivalists, runaways and loners, also within the American landscape. “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters” and “Alec Soth: Somewhere to Disappear,” screen Oct. 3, 6:30 p.m. at the historic Plaza Theatre (www.plazaatlanta.com).

Homeless Portraiture

The Dutch photographer Jan Banning has trained his lens on a variety of subjects including victims of war, bureaucratic officials in their offices around the world and now, foot soldiers on poverty’s front lines in “Down and Out in the South.” His portraits of the homeless — concentrated in the Southeast — young and old, lost and purposeful are imbued with compassion and quiet dignity and take their inspiration from 17th century Dutch oil painting. Six of Banning’s luminous, deeply humanizing portraits will be projected at the corner of Pryor Street and Edgewood Avenue at the Southeast corner of Woodruff Park from October 18-31, appropriately bringing this work about a social ill into a public forum.

Photography’s Next Generation

The feisty Westside contemporary art space Emily Amy Gallery, is known for showing work by a younger generation of artists. For ACP the gallery features a selection of nine up-and-coming Southern painters and photographers. The assembled young ‘uns in “Shared Southern Stories” (October 19-November 24, www.emilyamygallery.com) were featured in the 2012 visual arts issue of “The Oxford American” devoted to Southern art. The work on view ranges from elegant black and white portraits to scenes of contemporary life. The Atlanta photographer Nikita Gale, who often repurposes vintage imagery in her work, is one of the Southern artists featured in the show.

Object Lesson

Is it kitsch or art? Viewers can decide in this show at Buckhead’s Hagedorn Foundation Gallery featuring one of Atlanta’s most high-profile, globe-trotting interior designers, John Oetgen. Oetgen photographs the colorful tools of his trade, the kind of adorable ceramic tchotchkes featuring tiny matadors, rosy-cheek elves and geishas that ornament homes, both fancy and plain in “Figurines: Work by John Oetgen” (through Oct. 15, www.hfgallery.org).

Photos from the Big House

In his photo series “Juvenile-In-Justice” California photographer Richard Ross unveils the fruit of a five-year-long project of documenting life inside juvenile correctional facilities. His images, part of a traveling show that makes its Atlanta stop at Kennesaw State University, shows the alarming juxtaposition of confinement and kids — both male and female — as young as 10 and 12 who look more ready for the time-out chair than a high security prison with its window-less rooms, uncomfortable-looking cots and suicide watches. Ross’s work will appear at Kennesaw State’s Art Gallery, Sturgis Library (Oct. 9-Nov. 1, www.kennesaw.edu/arts/galleries/) and the photographer will lecture at the university’s Prillaman Hall on October 9 from 5 p.m.-6 p.m.

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