Stacy Kranitz took up residence in a cabin in the mountains of eastern Tennessee in 2018, yet she continues to lead a somewhat itinerant life ranging across the South and making photographs. She earned BFA and MFA degrees in photography from New York University and the University of California, Irvine, respectively, and she is in high demand at domestic and international publications, from Adbusters to the Intercept, the New York Times, Stern, and Vice, among others. In 2015, she was named Instagram photographer of the year by Time magazine. Kranitz’s work is in collections such as The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and The Do Good Fund, Columbus, Georgia.
In her Southbound photographs Kranitz documents life in marginal communities from Appalachia to the Louisiana bayou. Troubled by notions of right and wrong encoded in the documentary tradition, she rejects any ambition to discover a specific truth about her subjects’ realities through her images. Instead, in her project in Appalachia, As It Was Give(n) To Me, she presents the work of a participant-observer who enmeshes herself in the lives of the people she photographs, coming to know them through partying, doing drugs, and becoming friends over extended timeframes.
In The Island, Kranitz’s images of Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles document a place fated to be lost to processes of environmental change, whose inhabitants are America’s first climate refugees under the terms of a federal government program to relocate the entire community. As such, her photographs are harbingers for change in the South over the coming decades. In Island Road (2010), depicting a landscape familiar to anyone who has seen 2012’s feature film Beasts of the Southern Wild, we can’t be sure whether the girl is walking to or from the island; however, her back is to us and the land that looms in the distance is certainly big enough to be the mainland. The message, in this reading, about the impact climate change will have in the region is clear.
Kranitz’s work in the bayou reflects her concern for perhaps the most marginalized people in United States history, the native populations. The tragedy of displaced Native American tribes, who were driven to the bayou by the privatization of their lands at the time of the Indian Removal Acts and are now being compelled to move again because of forces—environmental change—over which they, once more, have no control, is overwhelming.
In other images from Southbound, Kranitz pictures Native Americans in Tennessee and North Carolina. In Gatlinburg, Tennessee (2015) we see tow-headed children hug a Native American bedecked in ceremonial garb while Mom snaps a picture on her digital camera and Dad reaches for cash to settle up. The young boy’s T-shirt, picturing the Stars and Stripes, pulls the white stars on his sister’s blue dress into sharp relief and we get lost in the irony of the moment. In a photograph titled Cherokee, North Carolina (2015), another Native American regards us with an expression that is difficult to decipher. His manner is dignified, but he appears jaded or dejected. One of the stickers on the fiery red suitcase behind him warns, “No farting.” A larger sticker pictures a Native American man and proclaims, in all caps, army font: “WE ARE STILL HERE!”
Kranitz’s photographs of communities in the rural South are of a piece with that of other Southbound artists such as Rob Amberg, Rachel Boillot, Lucas Foglia, and Magdalena Solé. Further, the environmental dimension to The Island project resonates in the work of Daniel Beltrá and Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick. Kranitz’s determination to implicate both viewer and artist in her images imbues her photographs with deep empathy.