Book Review: Jasper Texas Community Photographer

Community strength

Author Alan Govenar has developed a concept which he calls Community Photographer using images of the everyday black environment to reveal shared values and beliefs in their community. Alonzo Jordan was a barber who drifted into photography and became the town's recorder of the positive lifestyles of the black population. The 133 plates of Jasper by Jordan celebrate Govenar's idea.

The photos in the book show parades, weddings, funerals, graduations, civic groups and family gatherings. Like any small-town photographer he was being paid to show those being photographed in a positive way and the delivered prints would take pride of place in their homes as a permanent record. It's worth saying, as Govenar does in his interesting introduction, that Jordan didn't record every bit of black life Jasper. The town was segregated and none of that comes across in his photos, he wasn't paid to record the downside of life.

Though I thought Jordan's photos make the idea of the Community Photographer come alive I wonder why so many of them are presented untrimmed. Turn the pages and you'll see areas of sky or foreground, ceilings and floors of interiors that would probably have been cropped in the final prints for the customer. For example page 134 has an interior shot of a reception for some nurses and friends, they occupy less than quarter of the photo. The walls, floor and ceiling would have been cropped to leave the group as the focal point of the photo and permanent reminder of the event.

These photos were originally in an exhibition and Alan Govenar, in the show's catalog says: 'The virtuosity of these images is secondary to their content', which might well explain why the photos have been presented here as original working prints, blemishes and all. The book's excellent production (a good matt art with 175 screen printing) makes the technical blandness of many photos seem rather incongruous.

Alonzo Jordan's photos certainly give a positive view of black life in Jasper but I thought they were limited in their coverage when compared to these two books by black photographers: Separate, but Equal with 130 photos by Henry Anderson of life in Greenville, Mississippi and Behold the People: R.C. Hickman's Photographs of Black Dallas 1949-1961 109 photos that appeared in the Star Post newspaper taken by Hickman the staff photographer. I think the photos in both books are technically better and are much more revealing of the shared values and beliefs that Govenar's Community Photographer strives for.

Jasper Texas Community Photographer is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 01
Title spread.

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 02

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 03

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 04
Right: the bottom half of this photos looks like its missing.

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 05

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 06

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 07

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 08
The bread and butter work for any small-town photographer.

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 09

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 10
These are really nothing more that family snaps though interesting for the detail in the photos.

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 11

Jasper Texas Community Photographer - 12
Left: a working print before the original was done and a bit of the floor and sides were cropped. Nearly all the ceiling could be removed too. The point of the photo are the six people.

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