Nancy McCrary: SlowExposures will kick off its 17th year on September 19th. This is a remarkable tenure for any volunteer non-profit, particularly one not located in an urban area. During those years other festivals have come and gone. What sets you apart? And what, or whom, do you give credit to for the continued success?
Chris Curry: The festival has thrived for a host of reasons. The unique contributions of an amazing collection of diverse, talented volunteers. The place itself. Timing. And, the decision to stick with what worked from the very beginning.
It all started with a group of folks who wanted to preserve the rural character of this area–we thought photography would be a great vehicle to remind people to “slow down and look around–and, treasure what might be lost as metro Atlanta crept closer and closer. We recruited everyone who “got it” and those who were just enchanted with the idea of pulling this off in Pike County–two traffic lights, no hotels, abandoned historic buildings that once had been part of the cotton and pimiento pepper industries here. Many of the original founders are still on board today–Andrea Noel is hanging the show for the 17th year. Harriet Moultrie has been a co-director with me for the last 6 years. Our volunteers jump in and “own” a piece of producing the show–from the FFA kids who serve at our Saturday Supper to Benny Evans who we introduce as our electrician who moonlights as a dentist.
Invite photographers and collectors from across the country to spend the third weekend in a truly rural place. They see the Milky Way for the first time. They get lost–and then, found, on back roads because there is spotty broadband. Visitors see the work in late nineteenth century buildings that once housed cotton gins, whiskey barrels, dry goods stores that served tenant and sharecropper families, mule barns. They see images that meet our theme from the very beginning: “photography that references the beauty, contradictions, and challenges of the contemporary rural American South”. We are indebted to several members of our Advisory Committee who urged us–correctly, I think– to stick with this theme. In the past several years, it seems that the country is beginning to get curious about rural America–and, we’re happy to welcome them during SlowExposures.
NM: One part of the Festival I’ve always admired is The Children’s Show which highlights the work of children K-12. Why is this such an important part of SlowExposures? What can you tell us about positive results it has produced in these young lives?
CC: We are still faithful to our mission of preserving the rural character of this place and the Young Photographers Show is our farm team, so to speak. They are given a theme and we know that many discover aspects of their home places and people as they shoot pictures. We always have their reception in the afternoon of the last day–we think it’s fitting and inspirational to see the excitement and the work of these talented future leaders.
NM: Each year SlowExposures brings in 2 jurors, professionals who are respected and admired in this industry, to curate the main exhibition of 80+ images, and choose the winners. Tell us about this year’s jurors, and why they were chosen.
CC: Our jurors this year are an interesting combination. Alyssa Coppelman visited last year from California after being invited by a past participant. She is the photo researcher for Oxford American and other publications and we loved her keen observations on the show. Gordon Stettinius is a photographer, gallery owner, and publisher who is well-regarded for his craft, his acumen, and his investment in fine art photography–he’s also from the South and is based in Richmond, Virginia. And, in the small world of fine art photography, it turned out that they knew each other!
NM: This is the South so we’re not lacking in “colorful characters”. One of those who graces SlowExposures each year and works tirelessly on your behalf is John Bennette. Would you tell us more about Mr. Bennette and what he means to the Festival?
CC: John Bennette first came to SlowE as our third year juror–he grew up in Birmingham, Alabama but left as a young man and has lived in NYC ever since. He comes every year, curating some wonderful, cutting edge satellite shows, supporting emerging artists, gracefully bailing us out when we needed an extra hand…and, acting as the best ambassador and guide we ever could wish for–I saw him one afternoon at the main show spending time with a young couple who were attending their first ever “art show”–and plainly uncomfortable and curious. He took them around to each image and explained why the images were significant and how the show fit together. It was a lovely interaction–and, they’ve returned ever since.
NM: As always, there’s a jam-packed line-up of events. If I”m coming to the Festival for the first time what would be your best pieces of advice?
NM: And last, but not least, here is the Tenth Anniversary article from South x Southeast 2012 by a volunteer we lost last year, Katie O’Grady. Volunteers are just a wee bit more important when you’re in a remote location and there aren’t as many to beg from! Tell us about the Festival’s relationship with its volunteers and leave us with a good story.
CC: A story. Two come to mind. There was a couple who were looking at an image of a vast cotton field and speculating on who would work and live in such a remote place. An elderly woman next to them began sharing her story–she had been the daughter of a sharecropper not two miles down the road and had lived her whole life in Concord. She worked in the fields during harvest when school was closed so that the students could help–and, remembering, she pointed to the street in front of the store-turned-gallery and described being there with her school class the day Franklin Roosevelt’s funeral train passed by from Warm Springs on it’s way to Washington.
September 20, 21, 22