What are we actually talking about when we talk about the New South, a term bandied about with the same frequency (and often the same conceit) with which people label Charleston “quietly progressive”? It can be hard to define and seems to really depend on who you ask. In a companion video to the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art’s upcoming photographic exhibit Southbound: Photographs of and About the New South, folklorist William Ferris reminds us that “each generation has claimed to be the New South.”
As a point of fact, the term was coined in the 1880s by journalist Henry W. O’Grady. From its inception, it was meant to describe the emerging and restructured social, economic, and political order of the South after the Civil War. Popularly, it is often used to describe specific parts of the South that more closely resemble other urban and progressive centers of the country. For photographer and native of Montgomery, Ala., Andy Scott, for example, the New South always had a very specific connotation: “Growing up in Alabama, which is not the New South in my mind, it meant Dallas, Charlotte, and Atlanta … cities that seemed to be most like the rest of the country. Progressive socially, and in terms of business engagement.”
Southbound, touting 56 photographers, 220 photographs in the exhibition, 550 photographs in the whole project, opens on Friday, October 19 at 6:30 p.m. If you haven’t read part 1 of this series on Southbound, please click here.
There are several factors that go into selecting photographs for an exhibit of this magnitude. One key factor is that the photographs have to be available, but it is more than that.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a representation of Urban South. That is a part of the New South. There are Atlanta skylines in car mirrors and other things. But, we also wanted to make sure that we represented the world and agrarian cultures that are here because that is a very big part of the American south. So we also looked at stereotypes,” Sloan said.
But, at a point, the stereotypes become redundant.
“How many images do we have of downtrodden farmers? And how many do we want? Do we have corporate executives sitting at the golf course? We don’t have any of those because photographers tend not to be attracted to that. We do have black lives matter rallies and we have all kinds of other things, zebra racing in New Orleans. We do have a pretty broad net,” Sloan said.
Inside a simple brick building on the corner of Saint Phillip St. and Calhoun St. is a small museum dedicated to doing big things.
On Friday, October 19, The Halsey Institute is launching what might be its biggest endeavor yet – Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South.
Southbound is an ambitious collaboration between Mark Sloan and Mark Long. Sloan, the director and chief curator of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston, has arranged many engaging photography exhibits during his tenure, and Southbound is sure to be just as amazing. Long is a political geographer and professor of political science at the College. He’s also curator at large and academic liaison at the Halsey.
“The Marks,” as they are affectionately known, both have a litany of accolades and accomplishments to their name, and on Friday, they will add co-curators of Southbound to that list.
This exhibit, which is more than just a compilation of photographs, has been four and a half years in the making. It includes a study of art, geography, architecture, and more.
Where shall we begin? In the flooded Ninth Ward of New Orleans? At the rural roadside gas station and barbecue joint? Among the Latino migrant workers in Immokalee? With Confederate re-enactors, or with counter-protesters at the “White Power” march? Along the Underground Railroad, hidden by the trees and the night?
Or perhaps we should first look at the people of “intentional communities” who live outside the mainstream, or the beekeeper, or the children playing in the water, or the zebra racers, or the people who gather at Po’ Monkey’s juke joint.
Where ever you choose to look, the sprawling show “Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South” offers an unexpected view of this vast and contradictory region. That’s really the point, organizers say, for the South cannot be reduced to a simple sentence.
The exhibit, mounted by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, features the work of 56 artists, divided between two venues: the Halsey’s galleries and City Gallery at Waterfront Park. All of the images were produced during the 21st century. It’s the Halsey’s biggest project in its history, and “the largest show of photography ever undertaken about the South,” said Halsey director Mark Sloan.
When people envision the South, they may conjure images made by photographers who stylized the “Southernization” of aesthetics during the last century. Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Sally Mann and William Christenberry. There are the pastoral landscapes covered in Spanish moss; the storybook scenes of small towns and people whose lives have only known those small towns; historical images of segregation and stereotypical images impoverished Americans in crumbling homes. These images have had a lasting impact, but at a cost.
On Oct. 19, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art unveils an extensive exhibition, Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South — one that’s been four years in the making. There’s so much to unpack in Southbound, an exhibition that spans two galleries, both the Halsey and downtown’s City Gallery, that the images themselves beg for further discussion. A three-part series of talks, then, seems like a reasonable response to Southbound. The series kicks off on Thurs. Oct. 11 with presentations from exhibition curators, Mark Sloan and Mark Long.
The next two talks come from locally based photographers whose work is featured in Southbound; on Thurs. Nov. 8 hear from John Lusk Hathaway and on Thurs. Dec. 13 from Michelle Van Parys. Each talk is free and open to the public, begins at 6 p.m., and takes place at Redux.
An avenue of live oaks leading to an oil refinery in Louisiana. North Carolina’s Eno River, crowded with children cooling off on the Fourth of July. Iridescent oil swirling in the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Each of the 220 photographs in the exhibition Southbound—debuting this fall at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston—says more than meets the eye, an inherent friction at work in every image: between Old South and New, black and white, the environment and the demand for energy. Together, the photos call and respond to one another, telling a story of the modern South through the lens of fifty-six photographers, an unprecedented collection previewed here with images selected by Garden & Gun photography and visuals director Maggie Brett Kennedy.
The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston presents the exhibition from October 19, 2018, to March 2, 2019, held simultaneously at both the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and the City of Charleston’s City Gallery at Waterfront Park.
Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South comprises fifty-six photographers’ visions of the South over the first decades of the twenty-first century. Accordingly, it offers a composite image of the region. The photographs echo stories told about the South as a bastion of tradition, as a region remade through Americanization and globalization, and as a land full of surprising realities. The project’s purpose is to investigate the senses of place in the South that congeal, however fleetingly, in the spaces between the photographers’ looking, their images, and our own preexisting ideas about the region.
Mark your calendars now for October 19th, 2018, to attend the opening of Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South, at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and the City Gallery at Waterfront Park, in downtown Charleston.
We know, talking about 2017 is about as taboo as talking about New Year’s Eve plans (we’re scrambling for some, too). But when we glimpsed some of the images set to be used in a huge multi-media project, Southbound, co-curated by Mark Sloan, director of the Halsey, and Mark Long, professor of Political Science at CofC, we knew we had to share the project with y’all.