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Book Review: Picturing the South: 1860 to the Present

Dixie snaps

The idea behind this interesting book (originally it was an exhibition) was to use photos to show how the South had changed in the decades after the Civil War. The 180 photos are from just over 106 named photographers and twenty-five anonymous ones. They are not just photographers from the South (Swiss born Ernst Haas is included) but all the images show the complexity of Southern life from the mid-1800s to 1990.

The majority of the early photos show colored family life mixed in with a few from the Civil War and white rural activity. I thought nearly all of these as photos of record rather than powerful creative statements. This sort of work starts with the FSA photos from the mid-thirties with an excellent selection from Evans, Shahn, Lange and Bourke-White. The post WW2 years have twenty on the politics of race covering the marches and battles with law enforcement with a few of white social life. The books ends with several pages of more personal observations work from now famous names: Friedlander; Christenberry; Callahan; Meyerowitz; Eggleston; Sternfeld. What I found missing and perhaps it wasn't in the remit of the exhibition, was an absence of several photos showing how the majority of the Southern white population lived, especially in the fifties and sixties when consumer prosperity spread across the whole country.

This is not just a photo book because someone had the bright idea of adding essays by seven authors to split up the decades. None of them are very long but I thought they provided just the right narrative to go with the photos that follow each essay.

I've had this book for some years and always enjoy looking through it. The design is simple and elegant with the photos printed in a 175 screen on a reasonable matt art paper. As an attempt to sum up an idea as much as a place I think it succeeds.

Picturing the South: 1860 to the Present is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP) and Book Depository

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Title spread.

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First spread of Charles Wilson's introduction.

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Matthew Brady and George Barnard.

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Bottom right: Winson Link.

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William Christenberry, 1980 and 1978.

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Harry Callahan, 1987-1990.

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