Up close: Airport photography takes flight at High Museum

Shot at the Atlanta airport, Mark Steinmetz’s “Untitled” is part of the High Museum’s “Terminus” exhibit. (Courtesy of the artist and Jackson Fine Art)
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Shot at the Atlanta airport, Mark Steinmetz’s “Untitled” is part of the High Museum’s “Terminus” exhibit. (Courtesy of the artist and Jackson Fine Art)

For all the time people spend at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, whether arriving, departing or simply waiting, they seldom regard the facility as a place for artistic experience. Photographer Mark Steinmetz offers a fresh perspective on the world’s busiest airport — and the travelers who pass through it — as part of the High Museum’s ongoing “Picturing the South” series of Southern-themed photography.

Drawing its title from an old name for the city of Atlanta, “Mark Steinmetz: Terminus” debuts more than 60 new works by the Athens, Ga.-based photographer. “At the airport, people from all over the world and from all walks of life can be found in the midst of their journeys,” Steinmetz says. “Though my main subject has been the passengers, I am also photographing the people who work at the airport, the interiors and exteriors of the planes, as well as the hotels, parking lots and neighborhoods that surround and support the airport.”

Visitors to the lower level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion can see black and white images that create a sense of recognition, whether it’s the tarmac on a rainy night, planes glimpsed in flight through the trees of Atlanta neighborhoods, or such private moments as people saying goodbye outside the terminal.

The High Museum’s “Picturing the South” series began in 1996 (the same year as the Atlanta Olympics), building its collection of contemporary photography with Southern subjects, such as Dawoud Bey’s portraits of Atlanta high school students or Alex Webb’s series on local nightlife.

“Our hope with our ‘Picturing the South’ commissions is to spark something new in the photographers’ work, allowing them to dig into a topic or place that they’ve not yet been able to explore,” says Gregory Harris, the High’s assistant curator of photography. “Mark has been making some long-exposure night time pictures of planes that are abstract and unlike anything else I’ve seen him do. They’re rather meditative and beautiful.”

You may never view the Atlanta airport the same way again.

“Mark Steinmetz: Terminus.” Through June 3. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-4400. high.org.