The exhibition is a sort of Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness narrative, moving seamlessly from subject to subject. Tattered orange and red dishtowels on a clothesline, each piece of cloth shot through with holes; a line of railway freight cars shrouded in the evening light of the Mississippi Delta; thin shadows cast on brown cinderblocks below a periwinkle-blue sky. The bohemian and gothic Souths collide in Eggleston’s photographs—his bright colors and distinct perspectives imbue rusting signs and aging buildings with a spiritual, emotional darkness that speaks to a decaying world of an older South fading into suburbia and industrial development.
5 A.M. I wake up at home in Hampshire County and start driving in the still, quiet morning. I’m heading toward Fayette County in my faded red pickup with a loud, broken exhaust pipe. To the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel, it’s a four-hour drive, a pile of cassette tapes in my passenger seat, and a lot of coffee and cigarettes. My first day is scouting, finding the points on the map, seeking out the light.
A profile from the Oxford American’s 25th issue, 1999.
Christenberry is not simply a visual artist who reveres writers, especially Southern ones, his artistic vocabulary is directly shaped by them. His largest theme, like that of many novelists, is time, and he has a poet’s sureness of imagery and tone. He is perhaps the South’s most literary artist.
I live five miles from where the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel tragedy unfolded, along the New River Gorge in Fayette County. Hawk’s Nest is an extreme in a class of extremes—the disaster where truly nothing seemed to survive, even in memory—and I have made a home in its catacombs. The historical record is disgracefully neglectful of the event, and only a handful of the workers’ names were ever made known. What’s more, any understanding of Hawk’s Nest involves the discomfort of the acute race divide in West Virginia, seldom acknowledged or discussed. Indeed, race is still downplayed in official accounts. Disaster binds our people, maybe. But what if you’re one of those deemed unworthy of memory?
Native to the Northeast, photographer Shane Lavalette developed his intimacy with the South primarily through the region’s traditional music, including old time, blues, and gospel. The themes and stories passed down in these songs became Lavalette’s natural entry point for the project One Sun, One Shadow.
Photographs from the Summer 2014 issue.
Drawing from the famous nineteenth century portraits made by Doris Ulmann, Lisa Elmaleh’s project American Folk documents the contemporary development of traditional arts throughout the Appalachian Mountains.