ATLANTA, GA.- The High Museum of Art
debuts more than 60 new works by North Carolinabased photographer Alex Harris in the latest exhibition for its Picturing the South series: Our Strange New Land: Photographs by Alex Harris (Nov. 29, 2019 May 3, 2020). Established in 1996, Picturing the South is a distinctive initiative that asks noted photographers to turn their lenses toward the American South to create work for the Highs collection. For his commission, Harris made photographs on independent film sets throughout the South to explore how the region is seen, imagined and created by contemporary visual storytellers.
We are delighted to acquire Harris work for the collection as part of our Picturing the South series. Over more than two decades, the series has demonstrated our dedication to photography and to celebrating the regions diversity, beauty and unique character, said Rand Suffolk, the Highs Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director. We are excited to recognize Harris distinguished career through this commission and to share these new photographs with our audience.
Born and raised in Georgia, Harris is a founder of Duke Universitys Center for Documentary Studies and lives and works in Durham, North Carolina. A dozen years ago, having documented contemporary Cuban society, he was asked to photograph on the set of Steven Soderberghs film Che (2008). Inspired by that experience, Harris decided to explore current narrative cinematic representations of the South by chronicling productions of contemporary independent films set in the region.
One of our main goals for Picturing the South is to allow the photographers to explore a new creative route or dig deeper into a topic that inspires them, so we are thrilled that Harris went this direction with his commission, said Greg Harris, the Highs associate curator of photography. Ranging from intimate portraits and quiet moments to sweeping landscapes and atmospheric scenes, the photographs in the exhibition not only showcase Harris ingenuity and skill as a photographer but also will offer our visitors an opportunity to see the South through the eyes of innovative filmmakers.
Over the past two years, Alex Harris has traveled around Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas capturing both the scenes constructed for film productions and the activity that unfolded around and adjacent to the sets, often blurring the lines between staged storytelling and real life. With the Souths diverse topography as a backdrop, he strings together impeccably lit and instinctively composed images to build an intuitive narrative that vacillates between deep sorrow, explosive anger and mundane anticipation. Though he leaves clues, Harris never fully reveals which pictures are contrived for the cinema and which are documentary happenstance.
I began this project believing that, by photographing on contemporary Southern film sets, I might, through the visions and imaginations of these filmmakers, show the South in a new light, said Alex Harris. Over the last two years I found myself approaching these imagined dramas much in the same way I took on earlier, more traditional documentary projects, following my instincts and editing my photographs not to tell a particular story or to be faithful to the plots of individual films but to discover the story my photographs have to tell. Gradually, I became interested in seeing how my pictures from widely different film productions resonated with each other. Now, in mounting this exhibition with curators at the High, I see a cumulative portrait, not only of these productions and of the South, but of an idea that has long been celebrated in literature, explored in science and conveyed by philosophers that is, the ways in which we are all actors in our own lives, creating our sets, practicing our lines, refining our characters, playing ourselves.
For over 40 years, Harris (American, born 1949) has photographed across the American South and in locations as disparate as the Inuit villages of Alaska; the streets of Havana, Cuba; and the fish markets of Mumbai, India. He has taught at Duke University since 1980. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography, a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship and a Lyndhurst Prize. Harris work is represented in major photographic collections, including those of the High Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His photographs have been exhibited widely, including in exhibitions at the International Center of Photography in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. As a photographer and editor, Harris has published 18 books. His book River of Traps with William deBuys was a finalist for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. Most recently, he published Where We Find Ourselves: The Photographs of Hugh Mangum, 18971922 with Margaret Sartor.