Mark Steinmetz’s series Terminus, commissioned for Picturing the South, the High Museum’s ongoing project of offering new perspectives on the American South’s social and geographical landscapes, will close June 3rd. Mark your calendars now! Mark kindly agreed to answer a few of our questions about the exhibit. Those questions and answers as well as images from the exhibit are below.
Nancy McCrary: Good afternoon, Mark. Picturing the Southis a such a stellar introduction to our region for many people. As is, for some, the Atlanta airport you document in ATL/Terminus. What were your thoughts about being asked to contribute? How did you first become interested in a series on Hartsfield-Jackson? And was this a series you created specifically for Picturing the South?
Mark Steinmetz: Brett Abbott, the former curator of photography at the High, first approached me about working on a Picturing the South commission. He asked me what I might select as a project and I said right away that I’d like to photograph in and around the airport. I had always been interested in the Atlanta airport – whenever I would fly in and then rush to take the van back to Athens I would say to myself how I really ought to stick around more to photograph. There was a lag time of at least a couple years between when Brett asked me about the commission and when it was finally approved. I was relieved as I had already begun to photograph rather extensively and was tremendously excited about the project. With the commission, I could stay at airport hotels and linger more.
NM: There is portraiture in this series which humanizes the starkness of the airport, as well as abstracts and landscapes. Was there a particular meaning or feeling you wanted to convey?
MS: I wanted to create overlapping points of view. There are photos of the passengers and of the people who work at the airport. There are photos of planes in flight and photos of the Atlanta area taken from planes. I wanted to show small earth-bound incidents alongside vaster, more elevated views. The Atlanta airport isn’t particularly stark to me in that it doesn’t come off as hyper modern as many airports in Europe and Asia do. What happens at the curbside today (drop-offs and pick-ups) is probably fairly similar to the travel dynamics of previous centuries.
NM: ATL/Terminus is not your first series on the American South, in fact you’ve been capturing the people and landscapes since the early 90’s. You definitely have an eye for the South, yet you are not a native. What brought you here, and what made you want to stay?
MS: I had been working as a freelance photographer up in Chicago in the late 80s and early 90s, and in the fall of 1991 was invited to teach at the University of Tennessee for a year. I instantly loved the south. The weather is so much better here – you can photograph in winter much more easily (and the light is beautiful in winter). I loved the summers too with all the humidity and its softening effect on the light. The South seemed more chaotic and less boring to me than the more orderly and tamed North. I am surprised and delighted by what I come across here. For years I thought my time in the South was temporary but I like where I live now (Athens, Georgia) and I can afford ample studio and darkroom space here, which would not be possible in a larger city.
Through June 3rd – don’t miss it!