Decades of photography questions what makes the South in Georgia Museum of Art exhibition – WABE – what it is

Reckonings and Reconstructions, an exhibition on view at UGA’s Georgia Museum of Art, invites viewers to reflect on what defines the South across several decades of Southern photography. The exhibition presents the first exhibition of the entire Do Good Fund collection, spanning generations of photography from the 1950s to the present day. Georgia Museum of Art curator Jeffrey Richmond-Moll spoke via Zoom with City Lights host Lois Reitzes about the scope of the exhibit and statements about life in the South.

Interview Highlights:

On the blurred lines of southern geography, identity and myth:

“One of the biggest challenges of this exhibition was to define what the South is, where the South exists. Is it an imaginary place? Is it real geography? How was the South defined then and now?” Richmond-Moll mused. “I think what ties the works together as particularly Southern, aside from the fact that they’re recorded within what’s conventionally defined as the American South, is that they actually convey something about how the South continues to change; how it’s not something stable, but… it’s undergoing continuous transformation and I think especially with the choice of those two words in the title ‘Reckonings and Reconstructions’ there’s always this sense of looking back and looking ahead.”

“I think what the Do Good Fund did so well…was balance the expected with the unexpected,” Richmond-Moll said. “Who does work that might disrupt and upset our standard associations and in some ways the stereotypes that exist about who the South is and what the South looks like? This is something I think everyone needs to be wary of, in order not to perpetuate the kind of stereotypes that I believe photography has long created, or at least helped strengthen, the region… Coincidentally, we are in Athens , Georgia, a number of these artists have ties to Athenians – Georgia Rhodes and Rosie Brock, and then others who work further afield, Kristine Potter, Matt Eich in Virginia – these photographers bring in these fresh perspectives that take what we’re about think they know the South, and then turn it on its head.”

About the Do Good Fund’s achievements in preserving Southern photography:

“The Do Good Fund was founded in 2012 by a man named Alan Rothschild. It was founded in Columbus with the intention of creating a museum-quality photography collection that could be shared with communities across the South, with the idea that there are communities across the region that just don’t have access to this level of photography. ‘ Richmond-Moll explained. “So it’s a loan collection; that’s how it was founded, that’s been its mission for a long time. And the collection has amassed over the last 10 years a group of over 800 photographs by… photographers working from the 1950s to the present day.”

“We’ve partnered with the Do Good Fund for this exhibition to celebrate its 10th anniversary and to reflect on how it has pursued this mission of seeing photography as a moral imperative – the notion that the camera and that a photographer can do good for the South and for the world through work.”

Topics law and protest, ritual and kinship, land, work and food:

“[Sheila Pree Bright’s] The 1960 Now series is all about this notion that the past is not entirely behind us and the problems we face and the resistance it will take to build a new region and a new community , are not over yet. And her work appears alongside some of the famous photographs from Gordon Parks Life Magazine,” said Richmond-Moll. “A photographer named Paul Kwilecki from Bainbridge, Georgia … always talked about how much he loved taking pictures in the Bainbridge Courthouse because he felt that this was where politics got personal, where that Law in everyday life manifested in ordinary people.”

“These photos in [the ‘land’] I think what makes them southern is not just their images of the southern landscape, but they show what kind of relationships exist between people and the environment, between culture and nature. They show, like Jeff Rich’s photographs of the Blue Ridge Paper Mill or Stacy Kranitz photographing a playground that you only realize is right next to a toxic waste dump when you read the title Louisiana City Full of Superfund -Sites and petroleum factories. So you have these images that reveal the devastation of the southern landscape and its impact on communities, but then you also have images that show something more intimate about how people are interacting with the land.”

Reckonings and Reconstructions is on view at UGA’s Georgia Museum of Art through January 8th. For more information, see