Truth Told Slant: Contemporary Photography
Mar 1 – Aug 11, 2024

Rose Marie Cromwell, Through the Palm, 2020 / Courtesy of the artist © Rose Marie Cromwell

This exhibition will feature the work of Rose Marie Cromwell, Jill Frank, Tommy Kha, Zora J Murff, and Kristine Potter, five photographers who take unique approaches to documentary photography that challenge the principles of observing the contemporary world. The more than seventy-five works in the exhibition, including several from the High’s collection, exemplify a recent shift in how photographers have taken up the challenge of making meaningful images from the world around them in a lyrical way, rather than utilizing the traditional approach of a dispassionate observer. These artists consider issues that documentary photographers have grappled with for decades and that remain pertinent to contemporary American life: race and inequality; identity and sexual orientation; immigration and globalization; youth and coming of age; climate change and environmental justice; and the uncanny pervasiveness of violence. There are overlaps and intersections of these topics within each body of work as the artists address the pulse of the moment while self-consciously skirting the direct and detached methods of traditional documentary photography.

 

Rose Marie Cromwell, A More Fluid Atmosphere / Courtesy of the artist

Rose Marie Cromwell, A More Fluid Atmosphere / Courtesy of the artist

Zora J Murff, American Mother, 2019 / High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from the Friends of Photography, 2021.109

Tommy Kha, Canal, North Memphis, Tennessee, 2011 / High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Charles Jing, 2023.346. © Tommy Kha

Jill Frank’s portraits examine archetypes of youth, rites of passage, and the formation of identity. Her photographs complicate familiar rituals such as cotillion, talent shows, and homecoming dances, offering space to consider the nuance that is so often omitted from the tailored visual record of our lives. These events are often methodically recorded, making them seem trite and insignificant despite the personal weight they carry for those involved. By making meticulously rendered portraits of American youth during moments of celebration and triumph, Frank encourages a reconsideration of social roles and relations in teen life. The resulting photographs offer an uneasy sense of vulnerability and beauty. The scale and formality of her images emphasize a seriousness despite the inherent ephemerality of her subject’s performance and setting, reframing these moments as brave acts.

 

Kristine Potter, Knoxville Girl, 2016 / High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Wanda Hopkins, 2022.52

Rose Marie Cromwell, Junkyard, 2019 / High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Wanda Hopkins, 2023.106

Tommy Kha, May (Madonna Sans Child), in Four Acts, East Memphis, Tennessee, 2021 / High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Charles Jing, 2023.349

A More Fluid Atmosphere is Rose Marie Cromwell’s ongoing body of work about her hometown of Miami, a city literally and metaphorically at the edge of the United States. Her photographs present a vision of Miami distinct from its depiction in popular media as sleek and glamorous – one that concentrates on the city’s acute cultural syncretism amid economic inequalities, ostentatious excessiveness, and environmental precarity. She is particularly adept at channeling the materiality of her subjects to tell tangible though not readily visible stories about the city and its lesser-known industrial, residential, and commercial areas. Taking full advantage of the intense south Florida light, her photographs often verge on abstraction to express dreamlike states and a sense of disorientation in the face of globalization and the effects of climate change.

 

Zora J Murff, American Mother, American Father / Courtesy of the artist

Tommy Kha, Lotus (Family Style, No 1), Summer Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, 2021 / High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Charles Jing, 2023.344. © Tommy Kha

Kristine Potter, Looking Down, Dark Water, 2019 / Courtesy of the artist

Jill Frank, Talent Show, Crying while Kicking (Noelle), 2019 / Courtesy of the artist

Zora J Murff employs autobiography as a form of social critique to examine notions of family, masculinity, and economic mobility. American Mother, American Father is a family album of sorts that takes on myths and stereotypes of the Black family juxtaposed with notions of the model American family. Incorporating photographs of his relatives, self-portraits, appropriated snapshots, and depictions of domestic settings, Murff reflects on how the identity we create for ourselves collides with the identity society foists upon us. He alludes to signs of financial success and social status to question how privilege and power are inextricable from prevailing conceptions of racial identity. Through this deeply personal engagement, he ruminates on the role photography plays in establishing and reinforcing stereotypes of Blackness in popular culture.

 

Kristine Potter, Dark Water, 2019 / High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Wanda Hopkins, 2022.51

Jill Frank, Jalaiah / Video Still / Courtesy of the artist

Rose Marie Cromwell, The Nursery, 2017 / High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Wanda Hopkins, 2023.104

In Dark Water, Kristine Potter considers how the rural American landscape and the country’s popular music betray some of the most sublimated aspects of American identity: fear, shame, and violence. Spurred by murder ballads, a genre of folk song that often celebrates gendered violence, Potter weaves together landscapes, imagined portraits, and scenes she encounters in her travels. This intersection of images pulls from mythologies and folklore, revealing a land and a culture marked by brutality. Anchored by photographs of waterways with violent or ominous names, the series aims to make visual the connection between nature and myth. Potter pairs these waterscapes with portraits of young women soaked in water, imaginatively reanimating the victims of crimes valorized in song. Together, the shifting photographic languages compel the viewer to critically examine cultural mythologies and violent histories and their role in how we experience place and the possibilities for new outcomes.

 

Jill Frank, Cotillion, Boy with Bottle, 2022 / Courtesy of the artist

Tommy Kha, The Small Guardian (Isle of Misfit Toys), The Shoals, Alabama, 2018 / High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Charles Jing, 2023.350

Tommy Kha’s lilting photographs of his immediate and found families and his hometown of Memphis explore the intersections of personal identity, family history, and place. In South Portraits, Kha, a queer Asian American raised in the South, narrates the multiplicity of his identity. His mother and grandmother often appear as recurring characters in the form of fractional self-portraits to pose questions about what may be passed down from one generation to the next – culture, affectation, trauma? As the child of Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants, Kha considers the visibility and invisibility of immigrants in the United States. His images of Chinese restaurants, shrines, and kitschy interiors express feelings of dislocation to question how divergent identities fit into an evolving cultural landscape. Across these seemingly disparate scenes, his choice of subject and his deadpan compositions employ humor as a means of revealing the absurdity that underlies the ways people are othered.

 

Truth Told Slant: Contemporary Photography
March 1 – August 11, 2024
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, USA
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