What is “Southern photography”?
Exhibition at the Chrysler Museum of Art inspires audiences to question conventional ideals of Southern photography
August 4, 2023 (Norfolk, Va.) – On view from August 11 through November 5 at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Reckonings and Reconstructions: Southern Photography from the Do Good Fund is the first large-scale survey of the Do Good Fund’s remarkable and sweeping collection, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia. Founded in 2012 in Columbus, Georgia, by Alan Rothschild, Jr. (UGA JD ’85), the Do Good Fund has built a museum-quality collection of photography that charts a visual narrative of the ever-changing American South from the 1950s to the present. The collection includes images by more than 25 Guggenheim Fellows, five Magnum Photographers, and two Henri Cartier-Bresson Award winners as well as prints by lesser-known or emerging photographers from the South.
The exhibition highlights a wide-ranging group of photographers—diverse in gender, race, ethnicity, and region—and features 125 photographs by 73 artists, including Gordon Parks, Sheila Pree Bright, Mark Steinmetz, Michael Stipe, and William Christenberry. It asks key questions that identify and complicate conventional ideas of an “American South” and “Southern photography.” For example, how do photographs navigate the interface between nature and culture in the South, as well as the ravages of extraction and sprawl? How do photographers string together histories of quotidian labor and caretaking along with the region’s painful histories of enslaved and incarcerated labor? How have photographs captured the performance of Southern community and identity through civic and religious rituals? How has the medium signaled exclusion and estrangement, yet also belonging and kinship in the American South?
“Photography is a powerful tool in the ongoing project of community building, and the notion of ‘Southern Photography’ is compelling given the history of photography within the South,” said Chelsea Pierce, PhD, McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and venue curator of Reckonings and Reconstructions for the Chrysler Museum of Art. “In thinking about the relationship between this medium and the region, this exhibition offers a space for the contemplation of both past and present ideas of Southern-ness.”
Themes of land, labor, law and protest, food, ritual, and kinship link disparate works in the fund’s collection. Together they capture Southern history, culture and identity in all their complexity and contradictions. In so doing, they resist notions of the South as a retrograde region and instead present the enigmatic, “ever-changing” qualities of the place and its people: a region where despair and hope, terror and beauty, pain and joy, and indignity and dignity commingle; a place seeking reconciliation and restoration, captured by photographers with an ethical vision for a “Better South.”
Jeffrey Richmond-Moll, PhD, the Georgia Museum of Art’s curator of American art, who organized the exhibition, said, “Athens, Georgia has long been known as a music town, but it is also a prolific community of photographers, from the artists who continue to call this place home to the ones who have honed their craft here as students at the University of Georgia. For this reason, we are also excited to include a gallery highlighting the role Athens plays in the history of Southern photography while the show is on view at the Georgia Museum of Art. These works show Athens as a center of gravity for alternative culture and as a microcosm for the changing American South that the rest of the exhibition presents to its viewers.”
Reckonings and Reconstructions will be accompanied by the first comprehensive catalogue of the Do Good Fund’s photographic holdings, co-published by the museum and the University of Georgia Press. The exhibition and catalogue are generously sponsored by the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, the Furthermore Foundation, the Bradley Hale Fund for Southern Studies at the University of Georgia Press, the W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation Fund, and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art.
The exhibition will travel to the Chrysler Museum of Art, August 11–November 5, 2023; the Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, February 8–May 18, 2024, and the Figge Art Museum, June 15–September 8, 2024.
About the Chrysler Museum of Art
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. The Museum has growing collections in many areas and mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs each season. The Chrysler has also been recognized nationally for its unique commitment to hospitality with its innovative gallery host program.
The Perry Glass Studio is a state-of-the-art facility on the Museum’s campus. The studio offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes, including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking, and neon.
In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers the Moses Myers House, a historic house in downtown Norfolk, as well as the Jean Outland Chrysler Library. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.
About the Georgia Museum of Art
The W. Newton Morris Charitable Foundation Fund and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art support exhibitions and programs at the Georgia Museum of Art. The Georgia Council for the Arts also provides support through the appropriations of the Georgia General Assembly. GCA receives support from its partner agency, the National Endowment for the Arts. Individuals, foundations, and corporations provide additional museum support through their gifts to the University of Georgia Foundation. The museum is located in the Performing and Visual Arts Complex on the East Campus of the University of Georgia. The address is 90 Carlton Street, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. 30602-1502. For more information, including hours, see http://www.georgiamuseum.org or call 706-542-4662.