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In 2010 I was commissioned by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta to create a new body of photographs for their "Picturing the South" series, which includes past artists Sally Mann, Emmet Gowin, Richard Misrach, Dawoud Bey, Alex Webb and Alec Soth. I'm honored to be amongst these artists, and look forward to exhibiting new work with photographers Martin Parr and Kael Alford in June of 2012.
Having grown up in the Northeast, it was primarily through traditional music—old time, blues, gospel, etc.—that I had formed a relationship with the South. With that in mind, the region's rich musical history became the natural entry point for my work. I was not interested in making a documentary about Southern music today, but desired to explore the relationship between traditional music and the contemporary landscape through a more poetic lens. Moved by the themes and stories past down in songs, I let the music itself carry the pictures.
Two years later, with the project now complete, I have begun working on a mock-up of a book which I believe is the ideal venue for this body of work. From the beginning I imagined this project in book form. With your help, I hope to make this book physical in the coming months.
– Shane Lavalette
Shane Lavalette (b. 1987, Burlington, VT) is an American photographer currently living in Upstate New York. He received his BFA from Tufts University in partnership with The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Lavalette’s photographs have been shown widely, including exhibitions at the High Museum of Art, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Aperture Gallery, Montserrat College of Art, The Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard University, The Center for Photography at Woodstock, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Musée de l’Elysée, among others. His editorial work has been published in various magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Vice Magazine, Pig Magazine, CODE and SLASH.
Find his work online at www.shanelavalette.com
Picturing the South at the High Museum of Art
Picturing the South
Photographs by Shane Lavalette, Martin Parr and Kael Alford
June 9 – September 2, 2012
High Museum of Art
Tongue After Tongue, an excerpt
Shane Lavalette is the latest inheritor of photography’s devotion to the lyric potential of the barely occurring. He moves through the physical world like the curé in Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest: in love with all of its movements, certain he can save its soul. A northerner, commissioned by a great southern museum (with a big new wing of its own) to make a project about the south, Lavalette took as his point of entry the vernacular music of the region. It makes sense. Mark Twain was so moved by the sounds of southern voices he said, “a southerner talks music,” and the oral is the south’s profoundest point of access. American music comes from the south. Blues, Jazz, Country, Rock-n-roll, you know the story. From Stephen Foster to Sly Stone, the south is our musical source and subject.
And yet a photography project about music sounds like an opera about the Helen Keller. The camera, being so single-mindedly visual, is an illogical tool to address music. Lavalette smartly decided not to make a documentary about musicians. He instead scoured the landscape looking for the feeling coming from the music. By avoiding the sanctioned, probing tropes of ethnomusicologists and photojournalists, this young northern artist avoided the conundrum Ma Rainey is supposed to have described: “White folks hear the blues come out, but they don’t know how it got there.” Lavalette digs roots instead of picking flowers. He hunts for analogies, hints, circumlocutions. He is not preparing the epic history painting of southern music; he is finding cunning, lyric fragments of an oral tradition in the visual world, and letting them rattle together in his carrying case. There is smoke in the grass, but no fire. Skies just hint at tornadoes. A fence finds itself in fragments. The girls are pretty, the boys are rogues, but the photographer doesn’t fall for feints or flirtations. A tiny toy church sits mysteriously in a field, reminding us of Flannery O’Connor: “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”
This is a project about a project. Lavalette is accruing meaning about southern music by eschewing information. He moves through those “minor genres” —portraits, landscapes, agricultural scenes, still lives—content to let the project as a whole gather significances along the way rather than laying out a thesis and filling in bullet points. The pictures in Lee Friedlander’s Jazz People of New Orleans are about music not because they have musicians in them, but because they are formally polyrhythmic and alive. Shane Lavalette's are visually straightforward, obsessively clear and devoted to the metaphysical idea that direct observation can be beamed through a lens to a viewer. They are quiet pictures that, together, build to a boisterous whole. They speak from the endlessly renewed place of the photographic expeditioner who loves the world and knows it’s a well that never runs dry.
– Tim Davis, Photographer and Professor of Photography at Bard College, from the essay Tongue After Tongue
Any of the prints in the video slidehow are available at in various sizes/editions at special prices for this Kickstarter campaign only. To order a print, simply use the pledge options to the right or contact Shane directly for more options.
If you have questions about any of the rewards, do not hesitate to ask.
How Would You Picture the South?, NPR The Picture Show, June 22, 2012
The South from Many Angles, The New York Times, June 21, 2012
Wanderlust Presents: Shane Lavalette, Conveyor Arts Blog, June 21, 2012
Book to Come: Photographs by Shane Lavalette, Self Publish, Be Happy, June 21, 2012
Shane Lavalette | Picturing the South, Actual Colors May Vary, June 20, 2012
Photo Awards Recipient Shane Lavalette's Picturing the South, Daylight Magazine, June 19, 2012
Musical Heritage in the New South, TIME LightBox, June 8, 2012
Picturing the South, Bearings Atlanta, June 5, 2012
Shane Lavalette, Newsweek Picture Dept., May 25, 2012
Shane Lavalette, Booooooom.com, May 20, 2012
Picturing the South, A Photobook, The Telegraph, April 25, 2012
Photographer Captures Sounds of the South, CNN Photos, April 23, 2012
Interview with Shane Lavalette, Juror’s Pick, 2011 Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Work-in-Process Prize, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke, Jan. 6, 2012
PRESS RELEASE: High Commissions Three New Photographers for their "Picturing the South" Series, Dec. 1, 2011
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