Years ago I was talking to a woman from Virginia about Ireland, where I grew up, and she said, “I love Ireland. It reminds me of home.” Ireland not being known for its tobacco nor Virginia for its stout, that surprised me, until she said, “They’re both tragic.” Indeed, both Ireland and the South have deeply embedded histories of defeat, of eclipse by a nearby elsewhere, and in both places, as William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” I often think of that conversation when I look at William Christenberry’s photographs of Alabama, but I’m also reminded of the Band songwriter Robbie Robertson’s description of the South as a place “where you can actually drive down the highway at night, and if you listen, you hear music. I don’t know if it’s coming from the people or if it’s coming from the air. It lives, and it’s rooted there.” A culture of rich heritage
Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.