Shane Lavalette / Picturing the South: 25 Years

High Museum of Art Atlanta

In 1996, the High began commissioning photographers from across the world to engage with and explore the American South’s rich social and geographic landscape for its Picturing the South initiative. To date, the Museum has commissioned sixteen artists and has built a collection of more than three hundred photographs as part of the program, which include some of the most iconic photography projects of the last quarter century.

Shane Lavalette's contribution to Picturing the South was commissioned by the High in 2012. His monograph, One Sun, One Shadow, is an extension of this body of work. Native to the Northeast, it was primarily through traditional music — the sounds of old time, blues, and gospel — that Lavalette had formed a relationship with the South. With that in mind, the region’s rich musical history became the natural entry point for this project.

Eschewing the visual clichés you might encounter whilst undertaking a photographic project addressing music, Shane's quiet images search the landscape to capture an elusive feeling born from the soundscapes of the South. In the essay included in the monograph poet Tim Davis notes that, "Lavalette digs roots instead of picking flowers. He hunts for analogies, hints, circumlocutions. He is not preparing the epic history painting of Southern music; he is finding cunning, lyric fragments of an oral tradition in the visual world and letting them rattle together in his carrying case."

To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary, the High will mount a major exhibition that brings together all the commissions for the first time. Taken as a whole, the photographs amount to a complex and layered archive of the region that addresses broad themes, from the legacy of slavery and racial justice to the social implications of the evolving landscape and the distinct and diverse character of the region’s people.

Works on view will include the first photographs in Sally Mann’s Motherland series; Dawoud Bey’s over-life-size portraits of Atlanta high school students; Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley industrial landscapes; along with previous commissions by Alex Webb, Emmet Gowin, Alec Soth, Martin Parr, Kael Alford, Shane Lavalette, Abelardo Morell, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Alex Harris, and Mark Steinmetz; and new commissions by An-My Lê, Sheila Pree Bright, and Jim Goldberg, which will debut in the exhibition.

The exhibition is organised by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.