Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

American Studies

Major Professor

Robert E. Snyder, Ph.D.

Keywords

Southern states, Photography, Landscape photography, Sally Mann, William Christenberry

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to examine the work of landscape photographers living and working in the Southern region of the United States and to explore what their images visually communicate about their relationship to the Southern land and its distinctive history. This objective is accomplished through an analysis of the work of three contemporary landscape photographers who reside in the South, and work primarily within their local hometowns. This thesis examines the work of photographers William Christenberry, Sally Mann, and John McWilliams. Each is a photographer who is native to the American South and has used his or her indigenous Southern landscapes as subject matter. These photographers' work not only articulates the connection between the artist and the land in and on which they have lived, but also provides social and political commentary on the South's struggle to maintain its identity while grappling with its haunting past.

The research for this thesis has been derived from primary sources, including the artists' images, museum and gallery exhibitions and published writings. A "reading" (as defined by Alan Trachtenburg) of individual images is used as support for the central argument, as well as discussion of a photographer's work as a whole. Interviews with the photographers in academic, popular and trade publications were also used. Historical and academic literature on Southern history and culture is used as reference in order to provide a framework in which the photographers' work is positioned. Photographers who are native to the South are particularly adept at portraying the region's distinctive culture and growing pains as it struggles to come to terms with an ever-changing America. Images of the South by natives of the region are noteworthy because they are imbued with the artist's own individual emotions about their land and their history.

Southerners are an American demographic who feel a distinct tie to the land from whence they came. Therefore, Southern landscape photography offers its viewer a gateway through which to explore this complex relationship between landscape, home and history.

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