Southbound will comprise fifty-six photographers’ visions of the South over the first decades of the twenty-first century. Accordingly, it offers a composite image of the region. The photographs echo stories told about the South as a bastion of tradition, as a region remade through Americanization and globalization, and as a land full of surprising realities. The project’s purpose is to investigate senses of place in the South that congeal, however fleetingly, in the spaces between the photographers’ looking, their images, and our own preexisting ideas about the region.
Southbound embraces the conundrum of its name. To be southbound is to journey to a place in flux, radically transformed over recent decades, yet also to the place where the past resonates most insistently in the United States. To be southbound is also to confront the weight of preconceived notions about this place, thick with stereotypes, encoded in the artistic, literary, and media records. Southbound engages with and unsettles assumed narratives about this contested region by providing fresh perspectives for understanding the complex admixture of history, geography, and culture that constitutes today’s New South.
The history of the American South is among the most storied of any region in the world. As a result of the vitality of its culture and the diversity of its inhabitants—to say nothing about the salience of photography in the U.S.—the region has also come to be among the most photographed. Through the exhibition, video, remappings, website, and catalogue—separately and in tandem—the Southbound project charts new courses to expanded imaginings for the twenty-first century South.
Recognizing the complexity of understanding any place, let alone one as charged as the American South, the curators’ approach is transdisciplinary. The photographs are complemented by a commissioned video, a digital mapping environment, extensive public programming, a two-hour Mixcloud playlist, an all-encompassing stand-alone website, and a comprehensive exhibition catalogue. A fuller picture of the project’s components and the associated events is available on the project website: southboundproject.org.
Filmmaker John David Reynolds was commissioned to produce a fourteen-minute documentary featuring interviews with select photographers, writers, and Southern subjects. He also produced video interviews with photographers for the for Southbound website. Reynolds is an award-winning videographer who specializes in films about artists and the creative process.
The Halsey Institute has commissioned Dr. Rick Bunch, a geographic information science (GIS) and spatial cognition specialist, to design an interactive map of the South, representing everything from street name maps to data collected on chicken sales and churchgoers, among other topics. Available on interactive technology inside the exhibition space, this Index of Southerness will allow viewers to switch on- and-off indicators and arrive at their own maps of the South.
As with every Halsey Institute project, broad programming accompanies the exhibition, most of which is free and open to the public. The community is invited to standard museum fare like opening receptions, guided tours, and artist talks. In addition, they are presenting film screenings, poetry readings, a symposium on music in the South, panel discussions on a photographer’s access to communities, and a symposium on public memory in the South. The Halsey Institute seeks to inter-weave the voices of the artists with local and national scholars on art, history, sociology, and the South.
In addition to public programming, the Halsey Institute has built an extensive grant-supported educational program for K-12 students. Students at eight local middle and high schools will participate in workshops with exhibiting artist, guided exhibition tours of Southbound, and creating their own photographs that document their sense of community. The students will then work with a memoirist to write about their images and community to produce photographs and artist statements for an exhibition at the end of the school year. At the end of the project the cameras will be donate to the schools.
For Southbound’s aural component the Halsey Institute commissioned recording artist and Southern musicologist, Jake Fussell to create a compendium playlist inspired by the images and artists participating in the exhibition. The musicians and bands in the playlist spans genres to include Lil Wayne, Lucinda Williams, Charlie McAlister, and the Union Chapel Community Baptist Church in Pembroke, NC.
A stand-alone website connected to the Halsey Institute’s website, southboundproject.org, has been built in conjunction with the exhibition. This site contains many more images by each photographer, links to essays, and additional information about the photographers and subjects of the images. It also includes Dr. Bunch’s interactive Index of Southernness, the Southbound playlist, videos, a reading list, and a full schedule of events.
The project’s publication draws on expertise from disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social sciences including additional images by all exhibiting artists and a variety of essays offering a range of perspectives about the South. Essayists include William R. Ferris, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, now Senior Associate Director for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina; Eleanor Heartney, a contributing editor for Art in America, distinguished art critic, and author of several seminal volumes on contemporary art; and John T. Edge, author and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. Nikky Finney, Professor of Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina and 2011 winner of the National Book Award for Poetry, contributed original poems inspired by the exhibition’s photographs to the volume. The catalogue is supported in part by Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.
Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South is co-curated by Mark Sloan, director and chief curator of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, and Mark Long, professor of political science at the College of Charleston, in South Carolina. Southbound is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. The exhibition debuts simultaneously at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and the City Gallery at Waterfront Park.