SOUTHERN IMAGE TAKERS at David Lusk Gallery, Nashville

By January 21, 2023
William Eggleston, Untitled (Young Lady in Red and Gold), c-print photograph, 12 x 12 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, TN.
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William Christenberry, Untitled (Doors, White Building, Newbern), c-print photograph, 9 3/4 x 7 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, TN.
William Eggleston, Untitled (Bed of Pickup Truck), c-print photograph, 6 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, TN.

SOUTHERN IMAGE TAKERS features nine photographs by William Christenberry and William Eggleston, two southern photographers who focus on place as memory, color as subject, and employ time as medium. They subvert expectations of photography as strictly documentarian or for commercial advertising, creating a shift of consciousness.

Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1936, William Christenberry originally focused on painting, graduating with a BFA from the University of Alabama in 1958 and an MFA in 1959. He joined the UA faculty after graduating before he moved to New York City in 1962 where he met Walker Evans. Evans’ photographs of the Black Belt region of Alabama – Christenberry’s Hale County – influenced Christenberry to focus on photography, and he moved back to the south as a professor of art at Memphis State University. In 1968, Christenberry moved to Washington, D.C., to teach at the Corcoran School of Art, and he continued to make annual pilgrimages to the South to document the effects of time’s passage on the region.

William Eggleston, born in Memphis in 1939, was instrumental in establishing color photography as an art form and spurring the art world’s recognition of the medium. He began his career with black-and-white images, but soon abandoned them for color photography, capturing the beauty and monumentality of the mundane, everyday, and ordinary so that the real subject was color itself. His breakout show, PHOTOGRAPHS BY WILLIAM EGGLESTON, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1976 cemented his legacy, legitimized color photography as fine art, and launched his career.

Both from the Deep South, Christenberry and Eggleston began their careers with Brownie cameras, taking photographs that embodied the psychology and effects of place and memory. The two artists’ defining subject matter exhibited in two strong lines of works demonstrate how they sprung from the same well of late 20th Century Southern image takers. Christenberry’s photographs memorialize bygone eras; Eggleston’s work glamorizes the present; both share a unique closeness to tenants of cultural and symbolic reverence.

In 1968, Christenberry moved to Washington, D.C., to teach at the Corcoran School of Art, and he continued to make annual pilgrimages to the South to document the effects of time’s passage on the region. While Evans encouraged Christenberry to take his photographs of the South seriously, Eggleston is often credited with inspiring him to embrace color photography. Along with Eggleston, Christenberry is hailed as pioneer of color photography as a fine art medium. His small, straightforward snapshots, though documentarian in execution, were influenced by memory and personal association rather than observation.

from the exhibition text

William Christenberry, Untitled (Cotton, Gin, Havana Junction), c-print photograph, 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, TN.
William Eggleston, Algiers, Louisiana, c. 1972, dye transfer print, 15 1/2 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, TN.
William Christenberry, Untitled (Door, Cotton Warehouse, Selma), c-print photograph, 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, TN.
William Eggleston, Untitled (Gumball Machines), c-print photograph, 7 x 10 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, TN.
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William Christenberry, Untitled (Lake), c-print photograph, 7 3/4 x 9 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, TN.
William Eggleston, Untitled (Art Exhibit), c-print photograph, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and David Lusk Gallery, Nashville, TN.

SOUTHERN IMAGE TAKERS is on view at David Lusk Gallery, Nashville through February 4, 2023.

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