High Museum of Art celebrates 25 years of ‘Picturing the South’

Launched in 1996, the High Museum of Art’s renowned “Picturing the South” series supports contemporary photographers in creating new bodies of work inspired by the American South for the High’s collection, which is among the nation’s leading photography programs and has strength in work made in and about the region. To commemorate the series’ 25th anniversary, the High will present “Picturing the South: 25 Years” (Nov. 5, 2021-Feb. 6, 2022), which will bring together for the first time nearly 200 works from all the past commissions by artists including Dawoud Bey, Sally Mann and Richard Misrach and will debut new work by the latest photographers selected for the series, Sheila Pree Bright, Jim Goldberg and An-My Lê.

“The ‘Picturing the South’ commission and exhibition series is entirely unique among American museums for its longevity, commitment to place and diversity of artistic perspectives,” Rand Suffolk, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director, said. “For a quarter century, the series has called attention to the fabric of our shared experiences while concurrently highlighting what makes the South distinctive. We are thrilled to show the commissioned works collectively for the first time and to demonstrate how transformational ‘Picturing the South’ has been for the High and for the artists who’ve participated.” 

“Picturing the South” has produced a total of 16 extraordinary bodies of work, some of which have become iconic projects for the artists, including: 

  • Sally Mann’s major shift from portraiture to exploring the complex terrain of the Southern landscape. 
  • Dawoud Bey’s contemplative portraits of Atlanta high school students. 
  • Richard Misrach’s 10-year study of the Mississippi River’s industrialized corridor known as “Cancer Alley.” 
  • Alec Soth’s first photographs in what would become his remarkable series “Broken Manual.” 

In addition to examples from those series, the exhibition will feature works from each of the other completed commissions by Kael Alford, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Emmet Gowin, Alex Harris, Shane Lavalette, Abelardo Morell, Martin Parr, Mark Steinmetz and Alex Webb. 

The new commissions by Bright, Goldberg and Lê each will shed light on prevailing themes and movements in the South, including racial and national identity. Bright’s mysterious black-and-white photographs of Stone Mountain, a public recreation area that surrounds the largest monument to the Confederacy, scrutinize the literal and figurative marks that the region’s history of white supremacy has left on the land. Goldberg explores expressions of contemporary dynamics of racial identity in the South, with a particular eye to how notions of whiteness are articulated in a society that regularly assumes it as the default American identity. Lê’s photographs center on the social unrest that has emerged across the country, including protests in Washington, D.C. 

“The ‘Picturing the South’ photographs address broad themes, from the legacy of slavery and racial justice to the social implications of the evolving landscape and the distinct and diverse character of the region’s people,” Gregory Harris, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography, said. “The works together tell a compelling story of the contemporary South and will offer audiences a unique opportunity to see the region through the lenses of some of the best photographers working today.”  

To coincide with the exhibition, the High will publish digital resources for “Picturing the South: 25 Years” comprising artwork annotations and multimedia content, including a virtual tour, on an interactive online platform. 

June 2010 Brothers Joseph and Jasmon Jackson stay close to the bridge when they lower themselves into the muddy water of the drainage canal across the street from their house on Island Road on Isle de Jean Charles. In the past, most kids swam and played in the waterways and bayous on the Island, but increasingly, parents worry about dangerous trash and contamination found there. Photo: Kael Alford/Panos Pictures

About the High’s Photography Department

The High Museum of Art is home to one of the nation’s leading photography programs. The Museum began acquiring photographs in the early 1970s, making it among the earliest American art museums to commit to collecting the medium. With more than 8,000 prints that span the history of the medium from the 1840s to the present, the collection has particular strengths in American and European modernist traditions and documentary and contemporary photography. Holdings include the most significant museum collection of vintage civil-rights-era prints in the nation as well as important holdings by Harry Callahan, Clarence John Laughlin, Evelyn Hofer, William Christenberry, Ilse Bing, Walker Evans, Peter Sekaer and Dawoud Bey. The collection also gives special attention to pictures made in and of the South, serving as the largest and most significant repository representing the region’s important contributions to photography. 

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