Portraits of midwives and mourners, baptisms and blasphemers are part of an exhibit at the Morris Museum of Art that evokes the spirit of the South.
Myth, Memory and Imagination: Photographs from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell encompasses natural splendor and human squalor. The photos explore the idea of what it means to be a Southerner in a region marked by strong tradition and constant change.
The collection developed in accordance to its owner' interests rather than by design.
"It evolved, but it wasn't planned," Ms. Norrell said. "I didn't plot this. My parents were both politicians, so I grew up in Arkansas and in Washington D.C. So I have always been dealing with the idea of what is home and with being a Southerner and what that means. In my own lifetime, the evolution of the South has been very acute and often confusing. I think that's how the collection's theme emerged."
Ms. Norrell said she has begun to pay closer attention to how the collection has developed as a whole, particularly when looking to add to it. Still, she admits her first reaction to a photo must come from the gut.
"The immediate reaction is always, always visceral," she said. "I always think overnight before I make a purchase, and what I want is for a photograph to keep me awake. It would be false to say that I don't think about how a picture will fit in the collection, but the intellectual response is secondary."
The Norrell collection boasts images by some of photography's finest, including Ansel Adams, Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange and Eudora Welty. However, not all of them are geographically Southern. Ms. Norrell said she wants photographs that evoke the spirit of the South.
"I've decided the South is about more than region," she said. "After all, Southerners do travel, and I didn't want to limit myself. I just couldn't let the South saddle me."
Some art world factions contend that the science behind photography, the mechanisms and chemical processes, make it something less of an art than the more traditional mediums of painting or sculpture. It's a viewpoint that Ms. Norrell said she finds difficult to understand.
"I think that's about the same as the people who say, `My child can do that,"' she said. "This medium is about more than candid-camera moments. The art comes from the photographers that can find universal meaning in those captured moments. The art is in what is in the eye of the photographer."
While she embraces the Southern, it is that universality, the commonalities that people share that Ms. Norrell said she really responds to.
"It's like Southern literature," she said. "Faulkner was originally considered a regional author. Now he is viewed as internationally renowned. All art is like that, and although this collection is about the South it is also about much more. It is universal."
What: Myth, Memory and Imagination: Photographs from the Collection of Julia J. Norrell
When: On view through Dec. 31
Where: The Morris Museum of Art, 1 10th St.
Admission: $3 for adults; $2 for students and seniors (65 and older); children younger than 6 admitted free with adult; free to members and free on Sundays
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