History through the Lens

Curator Gregory Harris accurately describes this show as a “layered record” of the southern USA from 1845 to the present-day which “poses urgent and timely questions about American history, identity and culture.” One hundred and seventy works are on display from artists including Isaac H. Bonsall, Robert Frank and Kristine Potter. They shine a light on the legacies of economic inequality and white supremacy.

Allie Mae Burroughs looks directly at the viewer from the frame of Walker Evans’ (1903-1975) black-and-white portrait from 1936. She lived in poverty as the wife of a “sharecropper” in Hale County. Her family leased their farmland – where they lived and worked – from a landlord who took half their crops and money to spend on food, fertiliser and medicine. Evans was one of the pioneering Farm Security Administration documentarians, alongside Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange and Marjory Collins, whose visual record of extreme conditions suffered during the Great Depression (1929-1939) remains poignant.

Another memorable piece is Parks’ (1912-2006) Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping (1956). A small Black girl looks with wide-eyed wonder at the dresses modelled by white mannequins. The photographer intentionally positions the audience on the other side of the glass display case, causing the models to dominate the foreground. This shot is not only a reminder of segregation, but also speaks to racism that persists today. An-My Lê’s (b. 1960) recent work attests to this, picturing a group of young women sitting in the grass of Lafayette Park, Washington DC, following a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest.

A Long Arc offers a timeline of southern life as well as an evolutionary history of photography. It reveals the development of themes captured on camera over decades. Subjects and artists come together to tell stories and overcome in- equalities, whilst inspiring wider consideration and empathy.

Addison Gallery, A Long Arc: Photography and the American South | Until 31 July


Words: Diana Bestwish Tetteh

Image Credits:

  1. RaMell Ross, iHome, 2013, pigmented inkjet print, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from the Marilyn and Donald Keough Family Foundation, 2022.159. © RaMell Ross.
  2. Gordon Parks, Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956, printed 2012, inkjet print, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation, 2014.386.8. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.