Art Review: Between the Margins (Due South Co-op at the SE Center for Photography)
Between the margins: what is left unsaid, things swept under the rug, the hours put in creating art between jobs and sleeping and waking, an empty space, a container.
Recently I had the privilege of getting to take off work and see Due South
Co-op’s latest masterpiece, Between the Margins, curated by Ashley Jones and debuting at the SE Center for Photography in Greenville, SC. The collective has been working together for two years, and consists of Mississippi and Memphis based photographers Ashleigh Coleman, Ryan Steed, Ellen Rodgers, David McCarty, and Katie Benjamin. Each firmly considers themselves a Southern photographer, continually turning their lenses back on this place they call home, trying to understand where they came from and where the region is going.
Laced with humor and delicacy. Unbelievable occurrences. Too good to be true. These were just a few sentences I found myself jotting down as I walked around the room. I knew from the promotional materials the basic premise of the show — that every image had been found based on a phrase or sentence prompt that each of the photographers had pulled from a hat. The phrases ranged from things they had said to each other, overheard in passing, or had pulled from books. Each phrase was meaningful in some way, and the artists talked about how difficult that was, to let something that had one definition in their mind, be brought to life by someone else, and potentially in a way that was completely different than what they had envisioned. But they held onto the importance of the work speaking for itself, over the authorship of each photo taking precedence, and therefore only the titles were next to each piece on the wall.
While I was familiar with David’s style of shooting Polaroids, the others were a toss up as to who had created what, and many viewers had made guesses wrongly, even close family members. The collective viewed this as a strength, letting the work speak for itself, bleed in and out and run together, creating a cohesive visual feast that spoke with one voice.
Titles ranged from “The Last Great R.E.M Album” to “I Hate Peaches” (I hope that’s not true) to “Try and Shake Them Ghosts.” There was an order to the chaos as well, the artists making sure that viewers knew to start on the left side of the room and work their way around. The order caused me to wonder about some sequences back to back, such as “Don’t Tell a Soul” and “Tell Me Everything” hanging in solidarity side by side, or “It Was Fun ’til It Wasn’t” and “This is My Divorce List” bringing up the rear. Not only were the images impeccable (of course), but their combination with each phrase was often, literally, too good to be true. From graffiti etched into the side of a building, or a sign saying “pictures welcome”, to a crumpled up American flag, little details in each image gave an interpretation on their title that was sometimes beyond belief. Both the fact that these scenarios were real, and that they had been captured in such a truthful way, was like putting together puzzle pieces to a picture that you didn’t even know you were building towards.
There can be many interpretations on what makes an image “Southern”. Due South’s strength lies in finding occurrences that are both archetypal and strange, remnants of another person’s life that somehow speak to our own. Turning a corner of a building with a smudge of graffiti into a found object that will rattle around in your brain for days to come. It’s the message of crying out for a “New Birth”. There is something powerful in those who choose to take what hurts them, what is confusing, what is lovable and frustrating and home, and choose to look deeply enough that they find the good in it. The South belongs to all of us, and representation of it cannot be fulfilled with one single person’s viewpoint. It is in the multitude of voices that we see the full picture.