Features lyrical approaches to documentary photography by Rose Marie Cromwell, Jill Frank, Tommy Kha, Zora J Murff and Kristine Potter
"Truth Told Slant"
March 22-Aug. 11, 2024
"Truth Told Slant" March 22-Aug. 11, 2024
ATLANTA, Oct. 11, 2023 — In its upcoming exhibition “Truth Told Slant” (March 22-Aug. 11, 2024), the High Museum of Art will present the work of Rose Marie Cromwell, Jill Frank, Tommy Kha, Zora J Murff and Kristine Potter, five emerging photographers who take dynamic and innovative approaches to documentary photography that challenge the established principles of observing the contemporary world. The approximately 70 works in the exhibition, including several from the High’s collection, exemplify a recent shift in how photographers have taken up the challenge of making meaningful images from the world around them in a lyrical way, rather than utilizing the traditional approach of a dispassionate observer.
The title, which is inspired by the Emily Dickinson poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” accentuates the sidelong and deeply personal approach the featured artists take to address the current social and political landscape in their work. The artists consider issues that documentary photographers have grappled with for decades and that remain pertinent to contemporary American life: race and inequality, identity and sexual orientation, immigration and globalization, youth and coming of age, climate change and environmental justice, and the uncanny pervasiveness of violence. There are overlaps and intersections of more than one of these topics within each body of work as the artists address the pulse of the moment while self-consciously skirting the direct and detached methods of traditional documentary photography.
“While they eschew conventional approaches to photographing the world as it is, these artists nonetheless draw our attention to real-world, contemporary issues of great importance,” said Rand Suffolk, director of the High. “We are proud to present their work and to offer an opportunity for our audiences to appreciate their unique perspectives and the beauty and poignance of their photographs.”
Without the elaborate staging and fabrication that have been the hallmark of photography in the contemporary art world, these artists use a hybrid language of documentary realism by introducing subjective techniques that employ memory, autobiography, historical imagination, subtle performance and archival appropriation. Their photographs are often playful in their visual style as they expand the boundaries of the medium through an improvisational feel that captures the twists and bends of lived experience.
“By weaving between documentary and narrative modes and embracing their own subjectivity, these artists enthusiastically affirm Walker Evans’ notion of the ‘lyric documentary,’ foregrounding that while a photograph may not serve a functional purpose as a record, it nonetheless poetically reveals a deeper insight about the world we inhabit,” said Gregory Harris, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography and organizing curator of the exhibition. “Each of their personal histories and experiences inform their perspectives, leading to incredibly compelling work that we are honored to present at the Museum.”
Rose Marie Cromwell
In her ongoing body of work “A More Fluid Atmosphere,” Cromwell looks at her hometown of Miami as a microcosm of the increased mixing of global cultures in the United States but also as a nexus of the country’s struggles with economic inequality, excess and climate change. By concentrating on lesser-known industrial, residential and commercial spaces to capture the city’s multicultural realities and economic disparities, her rough-hewn images address labor, religion and the persistence of the natural world to counter the prevailing image of Miami as a sleek and glamorous playground. She focuses on commonly overlooked details, rendering them in vibrant color and rich texture to throw wider cultural and economic shifts into stark relief. Her photographs often verge on abstraction to express dreamlike states and a sense of disorientation in the face of globalization and the effects of climate change.
Frank’s meticulously rendered photographs examine archetypes of youth, rites of passage and the formation of identity through images. Using a large-format view camera, she elevates image types often made casually and of poor quality that would circulate within a group of friends via social media or text. Though such images hold great personal weight for those involved, the way they are typically photographed makes them seem trite and insignificant; Frank emphasizes a seriousness in these moments despite the inherent ephemerality of her subject’s performance, setting and flippant documentation. Her photographs recontextualize these familiar social rituals to consider the messiness that is so often omitted from the visual record of our lives.
Kha’s lilting photographs of family, friends and the built environment of Memphis explore the intersections of personal identity, family history and place as the artist comes to terms with his own multiplicity of self. Kha, the son of Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants, considers the visibility and invisibility of underrepresented populations in the United States. His accumulated images express feelings of dislocation to demonstrate how divergent identities fit into an evolving cultural landscape. Kha, who is queer, uses humor to reveal the absurdity that underlies the ways people are othered.
Zora J Murff
Murff uses autobiography as a form of social critique to examine notions of family, masculinity and economic mobility. His project “American Mother, American Father” is a family album of sorts that takes on many of the myths and stereotypes of the Black family and contrasts them with the “normal” American nuclear family. Weaving together photographs of his parents, self-portraits, appropriated family snapshots and depictions of domestic settings, Murff reflects on how the identity we create for ourselves collides with the identity society thrusts upon us. Through this personal engagement, he ruminates on the role photography plays in establishing and reinforcing stereotypes of Blackness and whiteness in popular culture. Seven of Murff’s photographs in the exhibition are from the High’s collection.
In her series “Dark Waters,” Potter considers how rural landscapes and popular music betray some of the most powerful yet repressed aspects of American identity: fear, shame and violence. Spurred by “murder ballads” (folk songs that celebrate and memorialize gendered and racial violence), Potter weaves together landscapes, imagined portraits and scenes she happens upon in her travels to pull apart mythologies and folklore, revealing a land and history marked by brutality. The series’ photographs of Southern waterways whose names reference the violence that took place there and portraits of young women that imaginatively reanimate victims of such crimes confront our founding narratives and force us to come face to face with America’s dark past.
“Truth Told Slant” will be presented in the Lucinda Weil Bunnen Photography Galleries in the Lower Level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion.
Exhibition Organization and Support
“Truth Told Slant” is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. This exhibition is made possible by funding from Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor Delta Air Lines, Inc.; Premier Exhibition Series Supporters ACT Foundation, Inc., William N. Banks, Jr., Cousins Foundation, Burton M. Gold, Sarah and Jim Kennedy, Harry Norman Realtors and wish Foundation; Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters Robin and Hilton Howell; Ambassador Exhibition Series Supporters Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund, Karen and Jeb Hughes/Corporate Environments, Loomis Charitable Foundation, The Fred and Rita Richman Fund, Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot, Mrs. Harriet H. Warren and Elizabeth and Chris Willett; and Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters Farideh and Al Azadi, Sandra and Dan Baldwin, Mr. Joseph H. Boland, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Robin E. Delmer, Peggy Foreman, Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones, Joel Knox and Joan Marmo, Margot and Danny McCaul, Wade A. Rakes II and Nicholas Miller and USI Insurance Services. Generous support is also provided by Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund and RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.
About the High Museum of Art
Located in the heart of Atlanta, the High Museum of Art connects with audiences from across the Southeast and around the world through its distinguished collection, dynamic schedule of special exhibitions and engaging community-focused programs. Housed within facilities designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Richard Meier and Renzo Piano, the High features a collection of more than 19,000 works of art, including an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American fine and decorative arts; major holdings of photography and folk and self-taught work, especially that of artists from the American South; burgeoning collections of modern and contemporary art, including paintings, sculpture, new media and design; a growing collection of African art, with work dating from prehistory through the present; and significant holdings of European paintings and works on paper. The High is dedicated to reflecting the diversity of its communities and offering a variety of exhibitions and educational programs that engage visitors with the world of art, the lives of artists and the creative process. For more information about the High, visit www.high.org.
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