In 1996, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta created the “Picturing the South” initiative. It had a twofold purpose: to provide a current perspective on Southern subjects and themes while building the museum’s collection of contemporary photography.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of “Picturing the South,” and from all indications, the initiative has been extraordinarily fruitful. It has commissioned 16 artists who have produced many works — some that have become widely recognizable .
To commemorate this stunning achievement, the museum is mounting a retrospective of all its past commissions with more than 200 works. The exhibition includes the initiative’s latest photographers, An-My Le, Sheila Pree Bright and Jim Goldberg, who join a host of other renowned artists, including Sally Mann, Dawoud Bey, Shane Lavalette, Debbie Fleming Caffery and Alec Soth.
In a news release, Gregory Harris, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography, said:
“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. … 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.”
“Picturing the South” has spawned a significant body of work exploring themes of Southern life. Along the way, some of it has become iconic for the artists, including Bey’s portraits of Atlanta high school students, Mann’s shift from portraiture to a contemplative approach to the Southern landscape, Misrach’s 10-year project on Mississippi’s “Cancer Alley,” and the beginning of what would become one of Soth’s most memorable bodies of work, “Broken Manual.”
The High has been committed to showcasing photography for a long time. It began collecting photographs in the 1970s and has accumulated more than 7,000 prints dating from the 1840s to the present. It also includes the most significant museum collection of civil-rights-era prints in the nation.
If you are lucky enough to check out this exhibition, you’ll find the High Museum of Art in the heart of Atlanta. This is the first time that work from throughout the initiative’s history has been exhibited all at once. It’s an opportunity to not only take in images of Southern life, but also to see work from some of the medium’s most prominent contemporary artists.
You can find out more about the exhibition, which runs from Nov. 5 to Feb. 6, here. Until then, enjoy this selection of images.
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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