Timothy Hursley

Timothy Hursley (b. 1955, Detroit, Michigan)

Timothy Hursley began his career apprenticing with his neighbor, the architectural photographer Balthazar Korab. In 1981 he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he still lives, and opened his own office specializing in architectural photography. His commercial work has documented important structures and their inhabitants, including Andy Warhol’s Factory, Philip Johnson’s AT&T building, and The Museum of Modern Art, all in New York City. Hursley has published four books with Princeton Architectural Press and his photography is included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, Little Rock; and the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.

In his personal work Hursley has been drawn to the spaces and architectures of subcultures, including Utah polygamist communities, the legalized brothels of Nevada, and funeral homes in the South. Additionally, his Rural Studio series documented the reconstituted buildings in impoverished Hale County, Alabama, a region famously photographed by Walker Evans. The Rural Studio buildings were designed and built from discarded materials by Samuel Mockbee and his students at Auburn University. Mockbee’s program teaches students the social responsibilities of architecture and innovative methods for using low-cost materials. Rural Studio (2003) depicts one of the projects of Mockbee and his students. It shows a baseball field designed and built in Newbern, Alabama, for residents needing a safe environment for their Little League children to play in after school and over the summer. Hursley’s image presents the field filled with children and spectators. The builders used metal hoops, catfish netting, and concrete-slab seating to create a protective enclosure for spectators that loops around the field. With a view looking down the length of the covered seating and home plate visible on the left, the photograph focuses on the liveliness of the reconstituted space. It balances an emphasis on the uniqueness of the site’s architecture with an appreciation for the timeless joy of this American pastime.

Hursley’s Funeral Home series develops themes of death, decay, isolation, despair, and the uncanny. Train Ride (2012), a shot from a funeral home, shows an odd scene in which two bare coffins sit on either side of a large toy train track that circles a small room. The claustrophobic space, with its low ceiling, drawn blinds, and wood-paneled walls, seems almost like a kind of casket itself, suggesting that even the viewer is trapped by the inevitability of death. This metaphor is further developed by the fact that the coffins sit on train tracks, a reminder that one’s journey through life is always progressing toward the ultimate endpoint.

Other works by Hursley extend these themes of death and decay to the commercial landscape of the South. Uniform Shop (2015), for instance, presents a deteriorating, nameless storefront in Lake City, Arkansas. From the aptly named Arkansas Rural Town series, the setting features rows of faded uniforms seen through the shop’s front windows. As in most of Hursley’s work, no people are present. The ghostly uniforms stand in for absent community members and seem to reference the dwindling and aging populations of small Southern towns as the young move away. Like many of Hursley’s other images, this scene addresses topics that are uncomfortable to confront and thus sometimes considered indecorous—decline, loss, loneliness—but that are also universal to the human condition. 

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