Magdalena Solé was raised in Switzerland but has lived in New York City for more than thirty years. She earned her MFA in film from Columbia University, New York, and she has worked in photography, film, and graphic design. She was part of the team that won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for the film Man on Wire. Solé’s work has been the subject of sixteen solo exhibitions in the United States and internationally. She is interested in people and places on the margins. Her photography explores themes of poverty, displacement, and transition, and her international vocation has seen her complete documentary projects in places from Cuba to Japan.
Solé’s Southbound photographs are drawn from her work in the Mississippi Delta, published by Mississippi University Press in the book New Delta Rising and recognized in 2011 with the Silver Award at PX3 Prix de la Photographie in France. Captivated by the Delta, famously described as the most Southern place on Earth, Solé describes its allure in terms of lives lived rooted in that place, still attuned to the natural rhythms of the seasons. For her it has the magical properties of the organic, in a place where farming remains the dominant fact of life. The Delta is also a landscape that embodies, still, the immense labor of the enslaved people that turned forest into field; and it is a hardscrabble place of often abject poverty, where some of the darkest moments of racial hatred decades and centuries old echo through to today. In capturing the tension between the beauty of the place and the hard life it offers many who live there, Solé photographs what she calls a new Delta rising.
Solé’s photographs are invitations to look beyond the poverty so readily depicted in the rural South, to see instead the resilience and sense of community that thrive in the region. She uses windows, mirrors, and glass to great effect to frame her invitation to look through stereotypical images at bigger stories. In Red Truck (2010), multiple scenes play themselves out around a ramshackle porch to communicate a vibrant sense of this place as one of family, companionship, and self-reliance. In the passenger side mirror of a Chevy pickup truck we see the future as a tow-headed infant arrives to see Grandpa. Through the truck windscreen an older child is working on an upturned bicycle. Dominating the scene are two older men enjoying a moment of easy silence. The skinny one is wearing an undershirt that sparkles as white as the paper he clutches; the other, bare chested and barefoot, holds a panting puppy in one hand and a smoke in the other. For all the poverty denoted by the architecture, what are likely prison tattoos, and poor healthcare choices, this is a scene of friendship, industry, and family. This yard, the Delta, the South, as this image suggests, is a place for the multigenerational life of extended families that is synonymous with community. This is the sort of place many of us still yearn for, and, probably, for all its challenges, where we thrive best.
Solé is in good company with her images of the Delta, a place that lives up to its billing, by fellow Southbound photographer Thomas Rankin, as perhaps the most-photographed place in the world. In addition to Rankin, Langdon Clay, Maude Schuyler Clay, Matt Eich, Jessica Ingram, Will Jacks, Kathleen Robbins, Euphus Ruth, Bill Steber, and Brandon Thibodeaux have all been drawn there. Solé’s fascination with the Delta and deep empathy for the people who inhabit it represents a key facet of the documentary photographic tradition.