Having lived in the Triangle now for eight years, when I was given an opportunity by The Independent to address an area of the arts that I thought was under-represented in the local media, it didn’t take me long to figure out what had been missing: photography. Unfortunately, it’s been rare to find a perceptive review of local photographers, and one of the best photography galleries in the world, Carrboro’s partobject, lasted only a couple of years.
Oddly enough, Southern photography has often been at the forefront of critical acclaim, beginning with the 1936 photos that Walker Evans took in Hale County, Ala. When Evans’ and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was published in 1941, Evans’ flat, heads-on, and centered pictures combined with Agee’s lyrical narrative in a powerful early work of conceptual art. This merging of image and narrative, which opened radically new ways of making and approaching photographic art, has influenced countless contemporary photographers, including those represented here.
Having received my M.F.A. in photography, I remember the power of Lewis Hines’ pictures of child laborers in North Carolina, the inspiration of Wendy Ewald’s collaborative projects with children, and the riveting charge of Sally Mann’s images of her naked children. One issue of The Independent could never provide a comprehensive overview of historical and contemporary Southern photography, but here is our best effort to introduce you to some key Southern photographers–Evans, Mann, Ewald and Eudora Welty–and to expose you to some under-recognized local photographers–Ashley Oates, Tammy Rae Carland and Chris Johnson. Photography, like painting and sculpture, is art, and we should recognize it as such and support it, particularly with the rich regional examples we have from history and the dynamic contemporary artists working in our area today.
All photos courtesy of the artists unless otherwise noted.