What is Southern Photography?

Founded in 2012 in Columbus, Georgia, by Alan Rothschild Jr., 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 region. On view from October 8, 2022, through January 8, 2023, at the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia “Reckonings and Reconstructions: Southern Photography from the Do Good Fund” is the first large-scale survey of the fund’s remarkable and sweeping collection. 

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?

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.”

“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,” Jeffrey Richmond-Moll, the museum’s curator of American art, who organized the exhibition, said. “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 will travel to the Chrysler Museum of Art (Norfolk, VA) August 11, 2023 – January 7, 2024; the Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, February 8 – May 18, 2024, and the Figge Art Museum (Davenport, IA) June 15 – September 8, 2024.

Associated events at the Georgia Museum of Art include:

  • A reception on October 21 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. hosted by the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art with light refreshments, door prizes and more; $15 Friends of the Museum; $10 Friend + Annual Fund Members (Supporter level); free for Friend + Annual Fund Members (Reciprocal level and above); register at https://bit.ly/90c-Oct-22
  • Reckonings and Reconstructions: Southern Photography’s Past and Futures, a day-long event on October 22 organized by the museum, the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts and the University of Georgia Press, with discussion panels and afternoon and evening events focusing on the rich history of music and alternative culture in Athens; collaborations with the Bitter Southerner and The Humid, an ambitious photography incubator and education space in Athens with a global reach; and opportunities for community building around savory southern food (free, but registration is required; more information at georgiamuseum.org/reckonings-symposium)
  • A homeschool day on November 4 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with Art Cart activities and a hands-on art-making project
  • A Toddler Tuesday on November 8 at 10 a.m. (for ages 18 months to 3 years; free but register by emailing gmoa-tours@uga.edu)
  • A Family Day on November 12 from 10 a.m. to noon as part of UGA’s Spotlight on the Arts Family Day
  • A Student Night on November 17 from 6:30. to 8:30 p.m., organized by the Georgia Museum of Art Student Association with music, fun and themed activities
  • And a live recording of art critic Tyler Green’s podcast Modern Art Notes at the museum on December 1 at 5:30 p.m.

Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated.

Written by Hillary Brown.

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