Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Looking at: Grave II

I hope to have some longer form writing here in the future. At the moment I'm head first in the life and work of William Christenberry, a great hero of mine. I just wanted to take a moment and share this wonderful painting, Grave II (1964). It depicts a scene that was often the subject of Bill's little color snapshots, those colorful graveyards so frequently found on Southern backroads.

William Christenberry, Grave II, c. 1964, Oil on canvas.

In The Early Years 1954-1968, Christenberry offers greater context for this piece:

"I was at that graveyard, which I go back to to this day. After all these years I continue to go back to it. And I'm there and one of those late spring monsoon-like rain showers comes up. He went to his car. parked a few feet away, and waited for the shower to pass. "The sun comes out and the landscape is literally steaming. And here is this wreath on a fresh mound of red earth, this fresh grave. This wreath of flowers was made out of crepe paper. That wreath is literally dripping lavender, blue and pink dyes. It is dripping color." 

William Christenberry, New Grave--Havana, Alabama, c. 1978.

William Christenberry, Grave, Windy Day, Stewart, Alabama, c. 1964.

William Christenberry, Untitled (Wreath on Tomb), c. 1977.

All the best,

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Listening to: Little Wooden Church

Heard this lovely gospel blues song in the trailer to Alec Soth's Photographic Storytelling course from Magnum. Spent about 20 minutes trying to find it only to realize it was in a reply to a comment on the video ... oh well. Reminds me of little old churches in the country and William Christenberry, for obvious reasons.

Little Wooden Church by The Trumpeteers

All the best,

Monday, October 5, 2020

African American Snapshots, James Van Der Zee, an Original Print?

For the last year or so I have been a pretty casual collector of snapshot images and related photographic ephemera. I initially started this many years ago through casual browsing of antique stores and junk shops throughout rural South Carolina. After coming back home from school early due to COVID, I was left with quite a lot of free time and very little motivation to go out and make pictures. Instead, I took up this quasi-image making by buying other peoples photographs on eBay. This curation seemed to largely satisfy my attachment to photos, photo history, etc..

After about 2 or 3 months of this I came to the realization — partially due to the racial reckoning of 2020 — that my collection contained not a single photograph of an African American or person of color (at least not immediately discernible). The next logical step was to search for African American photographs. This was made easy by the evident labeling as "African American" of the comparatively few snapshots that were listed.

When searching for "snapshot" under collectible images on eBay, refined by "original print," I am yielded 281,695. When doing the same for "african american," I am yielded a mere 2,387 results. When I narrow my search even further by selecting "Vintage & Antique (Pre-1940)", only 572 results. As my collection is made up of primarily pre-1940's photographs, I have an incredibly small pool to work with. This is nice for searching the overall pool but reflects the incredible lack of early 20th century vernacular images of African American domestic life.

So far I have only discussed this briefly with my professor who focuses on topics of race and the American Civil war. Though, I hope to focus more on this topic for a thesis or more expansive essay.


A few weeks ago while searching for AA snapshots, I came across a listing of a photo from a black wedding in 1926. I was immediately interested because of 1) the subject matter 2) period and 3) size of the image. After a little research I discovered the image was by James Van Der Zee, a prominent Harlem Renaissance photographer. The seller, from New York, had very little information about the print and I could find only one very low resolution copy online.

The general aging and paper quality has me optimistic this is an original print by the artist or from the original negative. While I am optimistic I won't get my hopes too high. Either way this is an incredible image and I am excited to have a copy of it. I plan on reaching out to the Howard Greenberg Gallery, who is the authority on Van Der Zee, in the near future to assess the find.

As always, hope you enjoyed this one.

All the best,

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Lee Friedlander Photographs William Christenberry

 I have long been a serious admirer of Lee Friedlander and William Christenberry. Lee for his enduring, unique vision and Bill for his significant contributions to Southern visual arts. Coincidentally the pair had been decades long friends which, in true Friedlander fashion, he unwaveringly documented. In reading more about their relationship I came across this portrait of Bill taken by Lee, which immediately struck me as a testament to Lee's status as a master portraitist.

The print has a contrast I would consider uncharacteristic of a Friedlander photo, likely attributed to the incoming beams of late afternoon light. Bill's frozen, pensive stare evokes the feeling of an action interrupted by a sudden realization. You can spot where Lee dodged Bill's hand and arm to emphasize his frozen posture.

I especially love the peaked highlights on Bill's forehead and cheeks — in parallel to the glowing orb of the lamp — intensified by the shadows of blinds.

Lee Friedlander, William Christenberry, c. 1990

I really enjoyed writing this little piece and really hope to do more like this in the future. I would like to get better at writing about photography and photos, especially so that I can write lengthier pieces. So far I feel like I have a lot of ideas but I can't quite put my finger on how to write about their impact, emotion, etc. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this one.

All the best,