Tuesday, September 8, 2009

William Christenberry

in the 1960's, william christenberry, a tuscaloosa born, hale county raised photographer, painter and sculptor, picked up where walker evans' work left off. in 1968 he began photographing local landmarks throughout hale county. he moved to new york shortly after this time, but continued to return to hale county every year or so on his trips back home to visit family. he would make the trip around hale county to find and photograph those same landmarks. in fact, while in new york he ran into walker evans, showed him his collection of photographs and was encouraged by evans to continue the work. he has continued to this day. the southern eye might see christenberry's work as well composed photos of insignificant buildings. his southern gothic imagery is a common place site for those of us from the south, but his work transcends architectural photography or cultural documentation. his work is about decay, about the passage of time, about human life and time and how the two are forever coupled. even the seemingly lifeless human creations can't escape death. where is there a better place to capture stagnant decomposition than the black belt of alabama? the hot and humid weather forces the people to move and talk a little slower and the misfortunes of history have detained economic and social progression. i know i've been to towns in alabama where it felt like time stood still. without christenberry's patient lens, the subtle, even imperceptible, effects of time may go unnoticed. christenberry says, "What I really feel very strongly about, and I hope reflects in all aspects of my work, is the human touch, the humanness of things, the positive and sometimes the negative and sometimes the sad." there's a great interview with christenberry here. here are photographs of a house he has photographed since the sixties:

that's not the full set and i dont have the years for each photo. the photo below is a collection of the full set but the inset pictures are small.

another building made famous by christenberry sits only a few doors down from theresa burroughs and the safe house museum. it's been a juke joint, a bingo hall, another juke joint, another bingo hall, and in more recent years a club formerly called the underground railroad, currently called the house of blues. these photo groups aren't the best, but you can get an idea. for better photos, there are several great books full of his work, which i'm sure you can find at your local library.