A fresh visual perspective on the American South
“Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South”, an exhibition currently on view at The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, South Carolina, comprises fifty-six photographers’ visions of the American South over the first decades of the twenty-first century. And it offers a composite image of the region with works by Matt Eich, Lucas Foglia, Mark Steinmetz, Gillian Laub, to name a few. The selection of photographs echoes stories told about the South as a bastion of tradition, as a region remade through Americanization and globalization, and as a land full of surprising realities. The project’s purpose is to investigate the senses of place in the South that congeal, however fleetingly, in the spaces between the photographers’ looking, their images, and our own preexisting ideas about the region.
As described in the introduction, “Southbound” embraces the conundrum of its name. “To be southbound is to journey to a place in flux, radically transformed over recent decades, yet also to the place where the past resonates most insistently in the United States,” it says. “To be southbound is also to confront the weight of preconceived notions about this place, thick with stereotypes, encoded in the artistic, literary, and media records. Southbound engages with and unsettles assumed narratives about this contested region by providing fresh perspectives for understanding the complex admixture of history, geography, and culture that constitutes today’s New South.”
Recognizing the complexity of understanding any place, let alone one as charged as the American South, the exhibition’s approach is transdisciplinary. The photographs are complemented by a commissioned video, an interactive digital mapping environment, an extensive stand-alone website (SouthboundProject.org), and a comprehensive exhibition catalogue. The catalogue draws on expertise from disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Filmmaker John David Reynolds has produced a documentary featuring interviews with select photographers and writers.
The history of the American South is among the most storied of any region in the world. As a result of the vitality of its culture and the diversity of its inhabitants – to say nothing about the salience of photography in the United States – the region has also come to be among the most photographed. Through the exhibition, video, remappings, website, and catalogue – separately and in tandem – the “Southbound” project charts new courses toward expanded imaginings for the twenty-first century South.