See the South Change Before Your Eyes in the Photographs of William Christenberry

Watch as we travel to Christenberry’s hometown to explore the importance of place in the High’s exhibition William Christenberry: Time & Texture.

Photographs by William Christenberry: Green Warehouse (Close View of Rear), Newbern, Alabama, 1988, printed ca. 2001; Cotton Gin Ruin (View I). Greensboro. Alabama, 2002, printed 2004; Palmist Building, 1961–1988, printed 2014.

If you’re from the southeast, the photographs in the High Museum of Art’s exhibition William Christenberry: Time & Texture will feel deeply familiar.

A clapboard house falls in on itself, kudzu claiming the space. Gnarled masses of wood and metal merge with the climbing greenery. You might be reminded of backroads in your hometown, the shuttered factory that once employed your great uncle, or your favorite corner store-turned-salon. William Christenberry’s photographs encapsulate the texture of southern decay and transformation.

In the video below, Gregory Harris, Associate Curator of Photography at the High Museum, makes a trip to Hale County, Alabama — a town immortalized by the photographs of William Christenberry.

A pioneer of color photography, Christenberry dedicated his career to articulating the unique character of his native Hale County, Alabama. For four decades beginning in the 1960s, Christenberry photographed the vernacular architecture and rural landscape of central Alabama on an annual basis, creating a prolonged study of place and the passing of time.

This exhibition includes more than 100 photographs by Christenberry and is drawn entirely from the High’s collection.

William Christenberry, Coleman’s Cafe, 1967–1996, printed 2014. Christenberry photographed the same buildings over the course of many years. Once he had accumulated a critical mass, he would arrange the photographs in grids to illustrate the effects of time and nature on human-made structures.

His visions of home betray a sense of nostalgia and sentimentalism for a time before the homogenization of small-town America — or at least earlier on in the progression of sameness.

In an interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, Christenberry warned that these visions of the south won’t be around forever.

“I have very strong, mostly positive feelings about where I’m from and a deep affection for where I’m from. But I see a kind of poetry or poignancy in these things that are disappearing. The south is changing rapidly. It’s becoming a more affluent part of this country, but it’s unfortunate that it’s beginning to look like almost everywhere else. And these things that I’ve photographed, that I’ve made sculptures of, that I’ve drawn and painted are not going to be around much longer.”

Come see the exhibition — but don’t stop there. Step outside into your own community, and take time to notice its personality before the effects of time and man change it forever.

By Eva Berlin, Digital Content Specialist, High Museum of Art