Don’t tell them it’ll never work. In a rural Georgia county of less than 18,000 souls, a small group of women fretted over the wasting away of historical structures and the encroaching sprawl from metro Atlanta, about an hour away.
People need to see what’s being lost in Pike County, they reasoned, if we’ve any hope of saving what remains. SlowExposures, Photography of the Rural South was born.
Now entering its 10th year, this juried exhibition has garnered national and international recognition, and luminaries from the photography world, having once been persuaded to serve as jurors and reviewers, return again and again to support SlowExposures with workshops, portfolio reviews and presentations, to see great images, renew friendships – and they bring their finery and tuxedos for the unlikeliest black-tie ball they’ll attend, held in the historic R. F. Strickland Building in Concord (population 375). The 2012 SlowExposures juried exhibition and ancillary events will take place September 21-30 in various venues throughout Pike County.
When Julian Cox first judged a SlowExposures exhibition, in 2006, he was the Curator of Photography at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. He is reprising his role as juror this year, but he’s now the Founding Curator of Photography for the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and Chief Curator of the de Young Museum. In a nice full-circle way, the current Curator of Photography for the High Museum, Brett Abbott, will also judge the 2012 exhibition.
The exhibit, that this year features 90 images, opens to the public on Friday, September 21st at 2:00 p.m., at the R.F. Strickland Building in Concord. After the jurors have awarded their 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes, it is customary for the assembled to descend on the Concord Café at the other end of the block for a traditional “meat and 3” lunch, a wise maneuver since the rest of the opening weekend entails many, many cocktails and conviviality.
Meanwhile, back in Zebulon (pop. 1,174), in a manifest illustration of the collaborative effort of SlowExposures, portfolio reviews from the likes of Jamie Allen, James Estrin, John A. Bennette, Elisabeth Biondi, Debbie Fleming Caffrey, Birney Imes, Forest McMullin, Kevin Miller and Sylvia Plachy will be offered in Zebulon’s City Hall, directions to which include the phrase “across from the Dairy Queen.” The event, which runs from 9 – 3 and includes lunch with the reviewers and fellow participants, offers 25-minute sessions with four of the reviewers. Registration information available at SlowExposures.org.
The independent bookstore in Zebulon, A Novel Experience, sits right across from Courthouse Square and serves as the community gathering place. It’s a bookstore, a gallery, and they serve damn fine coffee. W.A. (Bill) Chamberlain, an architectural photographer with a distinctive eye, will be exhibiting his work on the exposed brick walls of this reclaimed space for the duration of SlowExposures.
But wait—there’s more! The Saturday Salon (September 22nd, 9-3:30 ) brings together in the Community Center of Meansville (pop. 182) a panoply of past SlowExposures jurors and workshop leaders for compelling, pragmatic and enriching conversations relevant to the field of photography. The panelists for “Fine Art Photography: Ten Years Back, Ten Years Forward” are Jamie Allen, Elisabeth Biondi, Barbara Griffin, Kevin Miller, Jack Spencer, and Anna Walker Skillman. Session II, “Getting Your Work Out: Marketing Strategies in a New Market Environment,” will address real world issues for emerging and established photographers: “How do you get your work out of the studio and into the hands of collectors, gallery owners, museum curators and the media?” and “What’s the value of a website, a juried exhibition, a book?” Talking frankly and taking questions will be panelists Brett Abbott, Jerry Atnip, James Estrin, Elisabeth Biondi and Mike Smith. The final session, “Photographing the South with Three Southern Photographers,” features Tim Barnwell, Debbie Fleming Caffrey and Rob McDonald. These masters of photography will show their work and discuss technique, composition, and that ineffable “sense of place” that distinguishes an iconic image from a stereotypical one. The Saturday Salon is a ticketed event. Tickets are available at SlowExposures.org.
Besides the camaraderie and the always thought-provoking and evocative images of the main exhibition, many of these distinguished photographers come back year after year, with their cameras, because of the landscape. Pike County and its environs still offer the distinctive images of nature, lands, communities and lifestyles that have already disappeared from so much of the South. To recognize this affinity with its community, SlowExposures will offer another juried exhibition called “Portraits of Pike,” on the Courthouse Square in Zebulon. SlowExposures’ first jurors, Jan Fields and Pat Hankins return to do the honors for this showcase of Pike County images taken by its citizens and its visitors. How similar or different will these perspectives be?
From the start, SlowExposures has included the children of Pike County in its quest to document for posterity the large and the small components of life in rural Georgia. Considering that some of the youngest entrants are kindergartners, the Students’ Show, displayed concurrently with the main exhibition, is an annual riotous wonder of innate composition, sense of color, and pride of place. This year’s theme, “Our Stuff,” has 4 entry categories: My Stuff, My Parents’ Stuff, My Grandparents’ Stuff, and Family Stuff. Oh, yeah — this one’s gonna be Good Stuff!
Still more! SlowBook Afternoon, held during the civilized hours of noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, consists of “Book Look,” from noon to 2 p.m., in which exhibitors and presenters will show and sign their photography books, and then Ernesto Bazan, a world-class photographer recently headlining at the LOOK3 festival, will present “Creating and Marketing a Successful Photo Book.” Bazan recently started his own publishing company for photography books, so speaks authoritatively and engagingly about distribution, marketing, pricing and quality. Also speaking and showing his work that afternoon will be Jerry Siegel. Siegel was born and raised in Selma, Alabama, and graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta. While successfully maintaining a commercial photography studio in Atlanta since the 1980’s, he found his passion in doing his own personal work.
His first book, Facing South: Portraits of Southern Artists, was published by the University of Alabama Press and Jule Collins Smith Museum in Auburn, Alabama. Facing South reproduces, in both black-and-white and color, one hundred of these portraits of the artists that Siegel has worked with – painters, potters, sculptors, and photographers. His next book, due for release in the fall of 2014, focuses on Siegel’s work in the Black Belt region of Alabama. Siegel’s work documents the unique, cultural landscape of Central Alabama, the area where he grew up, and still maintains a deep connection. Tickets available at SlowExposures.org.
SlowExposures recognizes that while the show is visited and workshops are attended by people who generally already have at least one foot in the photography world, many other visitors are photo “newbies.” Almost everyone has a digital camera and almost none of us is getting the most out of them.“Photography 101,” is a workshop for us, from the amateur photographer inspired by the photography on exhibit and who wants to enter the 2013 competition, to the person who just wants to take better family and vacation shots. This workshop covers real basic stuff (how to hold your camera, focusing, shooting modes), delves into some advanced areas like aperture, exposure, white balance, and then sends participants out to use their new knowledge in and around the Whisky Bonding Barn (yet another Pike County historical treasure saved with the help of SlowExposures). “Photography 101,” sponsored by The Showcase School of Photography in Atlanta, and conducted by Sara Keith, will be held on Saturday, September 29th from noon-4 at the R.F. Strickland Building in Concord. Registration information available at SlowExposures.org.
Those women at the beginning of the article? They’re still the core group of SlowExposures, but their ranks are now augmented by a delightfully diverse crew of volunteers, from retired engineers, pilots, postmen, and teachers, to county officials, town administrators, bankers, store owners and farmers, to students and young mothers. They ready the galleries, paint the panels, hang the lights, haul the ice, put up guests in their homes, prepare food, plant the signage, man the welcome tables and so much more.
Take a sparsely populated rural county in Georgia, plant a notion to preserve and document the past and present, add audacious thinking and hands-on community involvement, and, ten years on, try to tell them it’ll never work.