In Black and White | Art Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Seven Days needs your financial support!

In Black and White 

Art Review

EXHIBIT:"East Selma, Alabama: Forgotten America," photographs. Allen House Art Gallery, UVM, Burlington. Through November 27.

ARTWORK"Like mother,like daughter, in an East Selma yard," by Neil Callahan

Neil Callahan's photographic exhibition "East Selma, Alabama: Forgotten America" is timely for at least two reasons. Hurricane Katrina focused renewed attention on race-based economic and class divisions in New Orleans and, by association, the rest of the United States. And in late October, Rosa Parks, "the mother of the civil-rights movement," passed away. While her body lay in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, flags all across the country were lowered to half-mast.

South Burlington photographer Callahan presents nearly 20 black-and-white images of African-American families whose lives have likely changed very little since Parks rejected the notion of separate but equal in Montgomery nearly 50 years ago. Nevertheless, and despite living in one of the poorest corners of America, Callahan's people are generally vibrant and proud. His photographs are also beautifully composed, which makes for a photography show that's formally strong as well as documentarily engaging.

Captions, rather than titles, appear with the images. "Like mother like daughter, in an East Selma yard" describes a rotund mother with her young and already chubby daughter beside her. Positioned at the right edge of the composition, both wear the same warm smile as they look at the camera.

Other captions and images are more socially charged. One photo captures a diapered baby standing in a doorway as his mother is about to leave for work. The caption reads, "CJ and his mom before she heads to work at Burger King, where she'll make $5.25 per hour. Also living there: CJ's brother and uncle."

Do brother and uncle also work for minimum wage, or at all? Is it a big house or a cramped apartment? The additional information manipulates viewers to read more into the photo than may be there.

In other cases, the explanation obfuscates the image. A photo of two girls sitting on a porch is accompanied by this explanation: "Twins on the stoop of a house in East Selma. Shortly before this photo was taken, the house was condemned as uninhabitable." If Callahan intended to expose the fact that children in East Selma live in substandard housing, a description such as "twins on the porch of their condemned house" would have been more edifying.

Ditto a lovely scene of a boy lake-fishing from a dock. Its caption reads, "Dequantye casting for catfish at the Dallas County lake 10 miles south of Selma, on a steamy summer afternoon. Cost to fish $2." Huh?

Such flaws aside, it's clear that Callahan works in the best tradition of American documentary photographers, by presenting to the greater public images of a forgotten socioeconomic class. Yet he's not an ordinary Life magazine sort of photographer who snaps a few shots and moves on. Callahan is actively involved in bettering the world he describes in this exhibit. He's an active volunteer and board member of the Selma Youth Development Center, and an organizer of the Selma Defiant Run Half-Marathon to be held on March 18, 2006 -- 40 years to the month since Selma played a pivotal role in advancing the civil-rights movement. It's a 13-mile run and obstacle course in which black-and-white pairs of runners will be chained to each other -- like Sydney Poitier and Tony Curtis were in the 1958 film The Defiant Ones.

Through his art and activism, Callahan seems to be working to have all citizens -- of every race -- reach the finish line together.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

More By This Author

  • Ground Crew
  • Ground Crew

    Art Review: Wendy James, Lynn Rupe and Carolyn Hack, Burlington International Airport
    • Dec 14, 2011
  • Net Gain
  • Net Gain

    Art Review: Barbara Wagner, Green Mountain Fine Art Gallery
    • Dec 7, 2011
  • Branching Out
  • Branching Out

    Art Review: “Trees,” Bryan Memorial Gallery
    • Nov 23, 2011
  • More »

About The Author

Marc Awodey

Marc Awodey

Bio:
Painter, poet, writer, musician, guerilla publisher and numismatist Marc Awodey, 1960-2012, was the Seven Days arts critic for more than a decade before his death at age 51. We all miss him.

Comments


Comments are closed.

Since 2014, Seven Days has allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we’ve appreciated the suggestions and insights, the time has come to shut them down — at least temporarily.

While we champion free speech, facts are a matter of life and death during the coronavirus pandemic, and right now Seven Days is prioritizing the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor. Or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.

Latest in Art Review

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative
newsletters:

All content © 2020 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401  |  Contact Us
Website powered by Foundation