Progress is generally a positive term. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “gradual betterment” and “to develop to a higher, better or more advanced stage.”
But progress in the real world always has consequences, good and bad. Sometimes places and people are left behind to stagnate, exist in some limbo state or evolve into something entirely new through organic change.
These consequences have been a recurring motif in the work of photographer Andrew Moore. His book Inside Havana (2002) captures the faded glamor of Cuba’s capital city and the socioeconomic realities of the post-1959 Cuban Revolution in often startling and contradictory ways. Russia: Beyond Utopia (2005) contemplates remnants of the nation’s Iron Curtain past in collision with or juxtaposed against modern day Russia, such as an ornate palace that is now occupied by a hip-hop recording studio. Detroit Disassembled (2010) depicts the Motor City, once a thriving center of industry and urban life, as a postapocalyptic vision.
The South, Moore’s current series-in-progress at Jackson Fine Art, shares some attributes of past projects, but the six works on view also celebrate the region’s vibrant color palette while confronting the past and present in a lush landscape immortalized by such disparate regional voices as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams and James Dickey.
Mrs. Clara Hornsby, Twiggs St. is a perfect example. An impeccably dressed woman wearing a yellow dress, a green jacket and a hat stands at a wrought iron gate bordered on both sides by tall hedges. Behind her is a magnificent, sprawling two-story home with ivy growing in decorative patterns over the balcony, its faded portico illuminated by a beam of morning sunlight. It looks abandoned: the roof is in disrepair and the entire painted facade is “alligatored” (a cracked pattern suggesting reptilian skin).
The effect is gothic and magical. The house and the woman in the photo have stories to tell, and the image draws us in with the desire to know more about both.
Moore said that he is often attracted to buildings and structures because of their storytelling possibilities and the fact that they are, in some ways, witnesses to history. The inclusion of a human subject in the frame creates a fascinating duality but also serves another purpose. The figure of Mrs. Hornsby anchors this image in the present.
“This is 2014. It’s not 1935,” Moore observed during his artist talk. “We know where we are in time, but also there’s something that allows you to project back into the past.
“And one of the reasons I love this house is because of the colors. If you look at my work in Detroit, you’ll see that it’s pretty monochromatic. I had to really work hard to look for color. But here in the South there is so much color.”
Another mesmerizing example, Midnight Gin, Midnight, Mississippi, features the timeworn facade of one of the oldest operating cotton gins in the state. A palette stacked with bales of packaged cotton sits on the open landing, providing one of several atmospheric details that create an exterior mosaic of weathered colors and patterns of rusted corrugated tin. The structure’s aging facade and emblematic name also recall some of the iconic images of Walker Evans, whom Moore noted is an inspirational influence.
The new work is a homecoming of sorts. Although Moore was born in Connecticut, his parents are from the South and he lived in New Orleans for a while.
“For color photographers in the late seventies,” said Moore during his gallery talk, “the South was the place to go. The South was the place that had color.
“Since that time I’ve traveled to a lot of places, but coming back to the South to make pictures is a challenge because of the legacy of all the great native photographers and photographers like Gordon Parks. So I approached it with a certain level of trepidation about what could I do that was different.”
One of my favorite images is Zydeco Zinger, Abandoned Six Flags Theme Park, New Orleans (2012). The photograph shares a spiritual kinship with Moore’s Detroit project in its depiction of a landscape that was once teeming with humanity but now devoid of people. But it also introduces an element of the fantastic, the surreal.
As a witness to history, the photo is a haunting reminder of Katrina’s legacy. According to the artist, the park was closed permanently after the hurricane and is now “a sort of fantasyland for derelicts.”
Moore has been working in large format color photography and printing for more than 35 years. His sense of composition, tone and color in regards to each subject he chooses has few equals, if any, and scale is as important as color.
“With prints over a certain size you are physically confronting the space of the image. That’s what I like about printing large,” he said. “There’s a physical relationship between your body and the subject. You can really step into the frame and take advantage of deep space in the image. You can project yourself into the space and get up close and see the details.”
While Moore’s exploration of the South is grounded in the present, the other two exhibitions at Jackson Fine Art look back at the region’s past. Gordon Parks: Segregation Story, which is also currently at the High Museum (reviewed here) occupies the main gallery. Steve Schapiro: Selma is on display in the viewing room.
Unlike Parks, who was a staff photographer for Life, Schapiro freelanced for that magazine and other notable publications such as Look, Time and Newsweek. But he, too, had enviable access to some of the most prominent and famous figures of 20th-century America, and he created iconic portraits of the likes of Muhammad Ali, Robert Kennedy, Barbra Streisand, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and Ray Charles.
Schapiro’s Selma offers a remarkable black-and-white chronicle of the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. The events have been dramatized to stirring effect in director Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated Best Picture contender Selma, but seeing the real flesh and blood players immortalized in candid close-ups can move you to tears with their sense of urgency.
Previously unpublished and only recently rediscovered by Schapiro, these images are unsentimental and dramatic, and a stark reminder of a time when fighting for the right to vote could mean risking your life.
Every image, whether it is an individual in an introspective moment or a freeze-frame of the crowd dynamic, captures the indomitable spirit of that march:
A young marcher lies on an air mattress in an open, deserted field holding an American flag that is rippling in the wind.
A group of people line a sidewalk, exhibiting a conflicting array of emotions as they watch marchers pass by.
The writer James Baldwin gazes expectantly at something off camera while the young woman behind him stares directly into the photographer’s lens with a calm, unflinching expression.
Martin Luther King Jr., flanked by Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy and John Lewis, leads hundreds of marchers along the highway in an image that conveys equal amounts of apprehension and determination.
During his gallery talk, Schapiro said he primarily worked in black-and-white because he found it a more emotional and inherently more dramatic format. If you are photographing people using color film, he noted you might run the risk of distracting the observer’s eye from the real subject by some colorful detail.
This is not to say that Schapiro is averse to working in color. In fact, the photographer, now in his eighties, embraces new technologies and opted for digital color photography for one of his current projects, Bliss. He describes it as an exploration of contemporary hippie culture, which has evolved into something distinctly different from its roots in the sixties counterculture. Based on Shapiro’s past work, Bliss promises to be an evocative and personal visual journey.
All exhibitions will be on view through March 14.