February 18, 2007
Since the early 1960s, William Christenberry has been photographing the regional identity of the American South, focusing his attention on Hale County, Alabama, from which he hails. His theme is singular: the history, the very story of place, is at the heart of his art project. Place is often explored in terms of time.
William Christenberry, Havana Methodist Church, Havana, Alabama, 1976, Digital pigment print.
The art institution interprets the work in terms of being a poetic documentation of Southern vernacular architecture, signage, and landscape captures moments of quiet beauty in a sometimes rustic terrain that, with its worn iconography and buildings turned ramshackle, evokes the power of the passage of time.
Every year he treks south to the place of his youth, Hale County in rural Alabama. It is the place where he snaps photos and his body of work has spanned decades:
William Christenberry, red brick building in Talladega National Forest in Hale County, Alabama, 1983.
How much of this kind of work about place is being done in regional Australia? Work that explores rural landscapes, its vernacular architecture, and the worn, remote margins of small-town life?
William Christenberry, Wall of Building with 5 Cents--Demopolis, Alabama,1980/printed 1981, type C print on paper
What we need in Australia is a prolonged study of a place, that reconstructs a region’s heritage and shows the stasis and change. These places are disappearing.