For the next three months, 125 pictures from the lens of 73 different photographers from the past 70 years are on display at the Georgia Museum of Art, capturing the depth of Southern culture and history.
On Oct. 8, the exhibition “Reckonings and Reconstructions: Southern Photography from the Do Good Fund” officially opened to the public. The exhibit displays photos centered around six themes that explore the identity of the South.
Jeffrey Richmond-Moll, the curator of the collection, explained how the photos were chosen to show a different light of the South.
“It tries to break out of conventional or clichéd perspectives about the South,” Richmond- Moll said. “What stories have not been told? Whose voices have or have not been heard? How do we acknowledge both pain and joy, loss and recovery ?”
Depth behind the lens
The photos in “Reckonings and Reconstructions” were taken from the Do Good Fund collection, which was founded by University of Georgia School of Law alum Alan F. Rothschild Jr. The fund is a public charity that collects contemporary photographs to make a visual narrative of the South, accessible through exhibits such as the GMOA’s.
The exhibit currently on display captures the dynamics and transitions of the American South since the 1950s.
The Do Good Fund highlights many women artists and artists of color, and features work from emerging as well as established photographers. The collection is influenced by the diverse range of photographers, which helps reflect the different cultures and values in the South.
The exhibit was titled “Reckonings and Reconstructions” to enlist the message of remembering the past to pave a better path forward. In the title, the word ‘reckon’ defines taking account of the past, and reconstruction signifies what the South has become and what is in store.
“In the midst of images that address difficult histories, the project also brings together photographs that capture resilience, community and moments of exuberance,” Richmond-Moll said.
The collection is comprised of photos taken by photographers of different generations. Richmond-Moll highlighted how “Reckonings and Reconstructions” strays from defining a new South but rather shows how the past has shaped the present. The ages of the photographers were vital in the theme of representing the South from varying perspectives.
The exhibit includes an audio guide of “Small Talks” from 25 of the photographers. The audio guide brings life to the exhibit and provides insight into the stories behind their photos.
“Visitors feel like they are standing alongside each artist in front of a work of art, hearing previously untold stories about the moment of inspiration or creation behind that photograph,” Richmond-Moll said.
Six defining themes
The exhibit is structured around six themes chosen to represent the distinct yet evolving character of the South: land, labor, law and protest, food, ritual and kinship. Richmond-Moll explained how the thematic sections display the patchwork of the different places in the South.
“These themes are intentionally broad in ways that help us see the region’s shifting qualities and contradictions,” Richmond-Moll said.
The strategically chosen themes highlight the deeper meaning of the collection representing the richness of the South.
According to Richmond-Moll, land represents the relationship between the people and the culture of the South and the detriments it has left upon the region. Labor focuses on the history of oppression, highlighting the detrimental impact of enslavement and incarceration from years past to now .
Ritual highlights the identity of Southern culture through the impact of civil, social and religious rituals.
Kinship conveys how photography as an outlet has brought people together while also excluding others.
More than a photo
Kathryn Hill is the curatorial assistant in contemporary art at the GMOA and assisted Richmond-Moll in the research and development of the Do Good Fund exhibit.
“The exhibition has a way of both comforting and challenging viewers. I think it presents a powerful opportunity to self-reflect, question what we know and critique preconceptions of the South” Hill said.
The collection strives to represent the perceptions and misperceptions people have of the South. Richmond-Moll explained how the photos challenge viewers to see the realities of other communities and start a conversation about how society has become desensitized to the power of photography.
“My own response to the exhibition — and certainly my hope for others — is to see this larger Southern community more clearly, and recognize how we are moving forward in shaping the future and supporting our ‘kin'” Hill said.
The Do Good Fund chose to show the collection in Athens because of the GMOA’s history of highlighting Southern art and their commitment to collaborate with UGA staff. The Do Good Fund also strives to promote accessibility by providing more people with the opportunity to see museum-level artwork.
“Everyone moves through their lives without seeing or experiencing other people’s perspectives, but photography has a powerful way of placing someone else’s point of view in front of us,” Hill said.
“Reckonings and Reconstructions” is open for public viewing until Jan. 8, 2022 at the GMOA and is free for everyone.