Critics’ Picks

John Chiara, Old River Road, Levee Road, Horn Lake
Landing, 2018, Ilfochrome paper, unique photograph, 33 1/2 x 28 1/4".

John Chiara, Old River Road, Levee Road, Horn Lake
, 2018,
Ilfochrome paper, unique photograph, 33 1/2 x 28 1/4".

New Orleans

“New Southern Photography”

Ogden Museum of Southern Art
925 Camp Street
October 6, 2018–January 13, 2019

The walk from the Lee Circle streetcar stop to the Ogden is punctuated by a column divested of its Confederate monument, a manicured lawn patrolled by the homeless, and Confederate Memorial Hall. The museum’s current exhibition is haunted by this context; twenty-five photographers and filmmakers offer images of a “new,” uncertain South.

The influence of the Southern documentary tradition, of Walker Evans and William Christenberry and Birney Imes, is outsize in the show. RaMell Ross returns to the now majority-black Hale County, Alabama, where Evans and James Agee once set their chronicle of tenant farmers; Andrew Moore gives us troublingly lush glimpses of contemporary Southern ruins (an abandoned amusement park, a stranded trailer); and Kael Alford documents the communities of southern Louisiana, where land is being swallowed by the Gulf.

But there are signs of struggle with the medium of photography, too—some of the artists’ feats of archaism and labor seem to be attempts to foil the speed of the snapshot. John Chiara’s images were taken with enormous field cameras, which he built in the Mississippi Delta. David Emitt Adams’s works revive the nineteenth-century tintype: For Power, 2018, he made photographs of oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana as direct positives on the collodion-wetted lids of oil drums. Together, the lids recall Bernd and Hilla Becher’s portraits of blast furnaces and pitheads. The stern beauty of the refineries is mottled with oil-colored stains, incident to the tintype process.

That vague, tired song—What is the identity of a place?—is replayed in the catalogue, but to look to the photographs for some essence of the South is to find almost nothing, except the sense that photography itself is a deeply Southern medium, open to the past and its lasting wounds.