Music wafted through the room as photos flipped over the screen — Clarksdale, Southern Pines, Mound Bayou, Birmingham.
“Southern Perspectives, Photographs From The Do Good Fund,” a symposium held in the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities, featured four artists talking about their experiences, their work and how they define the South and Southern photography.
David Carter weighed in on “Beyond the Ruined Landscape, Beyond Black and White: Pathology and Promise in Southern History and Photography.” He discussed living and working in the South and how the region is seen by others.
While at an airport in Cleveland, Carter was asked where his banjo was after showing his Alabama driver’s license.
“I think that’s the question at the heart of thinking about the image of the South in photography, is to move beyond the mythos of moonlight in magnolia and to think about the ways in which those images travel,” he said.
William Ferris spoke to “Memory and Sense of Place in Southern Photography.” He is a well-known author and photographer who has traveled throughout Mississippi to document African American lives through film, sound and photography.
Ferris chose a nomadic lifestyle, searching for new places to shoot, sitting in on home music sessions, visiting prison work yards and more in order to capture what life was like in Mississippi for African Americans and for Delta musicians like B.B. King.
“Photography has been a very important way of entering, in the most intimate ways, the lives of people,” he said.
As a white man who grew up in Mississippi, Ferris shared how unjust he found his community to be toward his friends, African Americans and how this shaped him. He grew up on a farm, attending church with African Americans and visiting their homes.
Rosehill Church was what started him on his road to photography. “That church was the heart of its world and as I grew older, I realized that there were no hymnals in the church and when those families were no longer there, the music would disappear,” he said. “So I began to record and photograph and later film the services and oral histories with the members of the congregation.”
And Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier spoke on “Finding Home: Black Sanctuaries in the American South.”
Her experience with race relations began as a young child in Southern Pines, N.C., not allowed to play on a playground because it was for whites only. As a teenager, Marshall-Linnemeier left home to pursue a more open and accepting community to African Americans.
Much like Ferris, she has photographed areas not only all around the South, but all around the world including Mound Bayou, Mississippi, Atlanta, and communities in Australia and England.
“Every community has a story, every community has a memory and so I decided to basically engage this idea of memory,” she said.
“The moment that I drove into the Delta, I immediately fell in love,” she said of her work in Mississippi documenting African American lives. “I was like ‘This has to be the most beautiful place that I’ve ever seen.’”
Now, she has returned home to North Carolina to document her hometown. Her work includes projects such as sewing photographs into fabric, or inserting photos into books as characters to go along with stories.
Celestia Morgan closed the program by discussing her photography in Birmingham: “My Contemporary South.” Her photography focuses on redlining in African American neighborhoods in Birmingham. These neighborhoods were deemed undesirable in the 1940s by map coordinators who outlined different areas of Birmingham, she said.
“The marginalization of Birmingham, geographically, has left many people in areas of poverty and hopelessness,” she said. “As I continue to (go) with a camera in my hand, I found myself in documentary mode, partially wanting to capture the suburbs in its current state.”
Morgan’s family has lived in Birmingham for generations. Her grandparents raised her parents there, her parents raised her, and now she is raising her children in Birmingham.
“I found it difficult to relate to some of the American South photographers, such as Walker Evans and William Christenberry, who work objectively but on the one-sided narrative told by white men,” Morgan said.
After the speakers and lunch, guests explored photos from the Do Good Fund of different locations around Auburn.
“The Do Good Fund is a Southern photography collection based in Columbus, Ga., and it’s contemporary photographs for the most part, so World War II forward,” said Jessica Hughes, curatorial Assistant for the Jules Collins Smith Museum and Xollection Manager for the Do Good Fund.
Different collections in Auburn include about 20 images. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Auburn University was the first to have it collection displayed beginning in August. Other exhibits are at The Jules Collins Smith Museum, The Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities at Pebble Hill and the Auburn Public Library through the new year.
“Art in general gives you chance to think some, to take a little moment for yourself during the day and kind of explore a little bit,” Hughes said. “Southern photography in particular is something that gives us all a chance to consider our place, our home and what that means. So the Do Good Fund is kind of about telling stories about the South.”