The South is a complicated place, capable of eliciting feelings of both shame and adoration.That complexity is explored in a far-ranging exhibition at Jackson Fine Art centered on views of the South as seen by three New York photographers.
Two celebrated “Life” photographers who captured the injustices of segregation and the protest movement that defeated it, Steve Schapiro and Gordon Parks are featured, alongside Andrew Moore, a photographer with a more romantic view of the region.
Moore has been commissioned by Jackson Fine Art to conceptualize the South, a project he has pursued over the past few years. Six large photographs from his series “The South,” shot in Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia command the gallery’s back room, pulsating with their distillation of the region’s light and colors.The majority of the works are exteriors that imbue the South with a lost-in-time air while highlighting the landscape’s uniquely luxuriant, verdant dimension.
A 70x90 photograph of a decrepit wooden railroad trestle being sucked back into the marauding green vegetation around it in “Old Highway 61 (Trestle)” shot in Tunica, Mississippi is more typical of Moore’s prey. In “Zydeco Zinger” Moore captures an amusement park ride, one of the casualties of Hurricane Katrina that sat underwater for weeks. The ride’s fanciful gilt design and scenes painted on its exterior contrasts markedly with a slash of graffiti and the dangling chains that once supported twirling riders.
Moore is nothing if not a skilled set designer, able to deftly choose a subject and execution that will deliver optimum emotional effects. A clear blue sky contrasts mightily with the derelict ride and typifies a style of photography Moore is known for that some have characterized as “ruins porn” for capturing the visual splendor in decay. Moore’s vision of the South is typically operatic and gorgeously staged, filled with affection for the unique look and feel of the place.
Moore has made his name photographing places that combine grandeur and desolation, as in his photographs of the crumbling behemoths of downtown Detroit’s recession-ravaged landscape or the sadly fading beauty of a once-grand Cuba. That same sensibility informs Moore’s treatment of the region in “The South.” The consummate image in that vein is Moore’s “Mrs. Clara Hornsby, Twiggs St.” featuring an elderly African-American woman in a daffodil-colored dress standing before a stately home that appears to be caving in. The porch bows, the paint peels, the vines creep onto the second story, as if reclaiming this human-made creation back to nature.
But civilization is the culprit in Steve Schapiro’s black and white images of protesters and witnesses to the burgeoning 1960s protest movement and in Gordon Parks’ photos of meticulously groomed and turned-out African-American parents and children. These protesters and families attest to the ugly, voracious lapping tongue of racism at segregated drinking fountains, bathrooms, theaters and ice cream parlors throughout the South. Side by side, the historical work of Schapiro and Parks and Moore’s grand contemporary work offer a vision of the South, in good and bad times.
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