When one thinks of American landscape photography, the first region of the country that comes to mind is usually the West. The iconic photographs made in the late 19th century by Timothy O’Sullivan and Carleton Watkins, captured the majestic views of the West’s endless wide-open expanses and formed the visualization of manifest destiny. In the 20th century, America’s most important and famous landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, visually defined the dramatic scenery of Western landscape in art and popular culture through the Half Dome in California’s Yosemite National Park and the moon rise over Hernandez, New Mexico.
Unlike the West, the American South is not well known as a subject of landscape photography. Perhaps, this is due to the Southern landscape not being as visually dramatic or as photogenic as the West. The Appalachian and Ozark mountains of the South are beautiful, but cannot compete visually with the much more rugged and higher peaks of the West’s Rockies, Tetons and Sierra-Nevada mountains. The sandy dunes of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico beaches that ring the South are much more sublime when compared to the roaring waves, rocky beaches and jagged cliffs of the Pacific Ocean.
The landscape in Southern art is much more about the romantic idealization of a place. Place along with time, are the central components of Southern art, music and literature. Within Southern art, place can be actual, imaged or metaphysical. When O’Sullivan and Watkins were documenting the virgin Western landscape, the lands of the American South (east of the Mississippi River) had been almost entirely tamed for hundreds of years through European settlement. The settlement came with European romantic ideas of art and literature. The 18th century European concept of Romanticism in art and literature (which had an emphasis on imagination, idealization and emotion) were first infused into Southern landscape painting and later into photography.
Southland examines the role photographs have played in the visualization of the natural landscape of the American South. The exhibition explores the many technical and aesthetic methods photographers have employed in approaching the subject of the Southern Landscape. Highlighting the marshlands in Louisiana, the beaches of Florida, the flatlands of the Mississippi Delta and the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia, the exhibition shows the landscape of the American South is as diverse as the people of the region. Southland not only investigates the topographical physical characteristics of the land of the American South, but the metaphysical and emotional role romanticism plays in the understanding of landscape photographs made of and about the American South.Support Southland