Christmas tree contests? Apple competitions? These are a few of the subjects addressed in a new body of work from photographer Rachel Cox in her current exhibition “Some Points” at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art galleries in Athens.
While serving as an art faculty fellow at UGA, Cox spent four months traveling around the Southeast visiting agricultural and livestock events, and state and county fairs. This is familiar territory for Cox; she frequently went to events like these while growing up in Texas. Cox describes the resulting series of photos as an investigation of the subjective nature of desire and of the ways in which quality and worth are ascribed to objects that may seem undeserving of special notice at all, much less a first-place (or seventh-) ribbon.
The left side of the black-and-white photograph Portuguese Tumbler is dominated by a pigeon handler, who delicately extends the titular bird’s wing for the viewer to appreciate. The wing stretches into an expanse of black to the right, drawing our full attention to the feather’s fade from white to black. Cox captured the coveted wingspan that, in part, dictates the winning terms in a bird contest.
Victorious fruit is on display in Winning Apples. Bright red apples sit in a wooden case on a pedestal amid a lush assortment of flowers, and are accompanied by a sign that designates the fruit’s variety: “Delicious.” However, these apples are set behind a velvet rope, which bisects the image, reaffirming the notion that the apples are to be revered. Evidently, these apples are not to be eaten, only admired.
In contrast to the colorful bounty of apples, another beauty contest takes place in the black-and-white photograph Competitors. Two avocados on a stark, white table seem to turn toward each other, as if assessing each other’s exterior splendor under the spotlight that beams off their skins. They are identified only by number, waiting to be judged. Unlike the apples, displayed among a full retinue of color and vitality, the avocados are placed in a sterile setting, devoid of color. Exhibited together, these two photos provide a compelling juxtaposition of color and lack thereof, as well as degrees of visual access.
In one of the two images in Bests, a Christmas tree stands against a green curtain. Ribbons dangle from one of the branches, a pop of color amid this expanse of evergreen and an indication that this tree has garnered top marks. Exhibited in tandem with the Christmas tree is a photograph of a pink ribbon for “Seventh Best Kitten.” The feline is conspicuously absent from the photograph, though, asking the viewer to consider not the winning animal but the ribbon that serves as the measure of success.
Cox’s photographs invite viewers to contemplate the way value is assigned, how prized possessions are judged, and the form various accolades take. Despite their too-casual presentation—unframed, warped edges, hung near an exit—the photos in the exhibition offer an enjoyable visit to places where, when someone says they have the best cat/apple/tree ever, they have the ribbon/trophy/decorated cake to prove it.
“Rachel Cox: Some Points” is on view at Gallery 101 in the UGA Lamar Dodd School of Art through March 6.
Brooke Leeton is a Nashville native currently working on a PhD in Art History at the University of Georgia.