What does the contemporary South look like? It could be as color-saturated as a basket of local tomatoes – or as somber as a black-and-white portrait of a tattered man. If you survey Southern photographers today, you’ll find they capture everything from junkyard dogs and Dixie signs to Mississippi’s indigenous peoples, from marching activists to homecoming queens.

Now, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston presents a far-reaching exhibition and programming series that is as vast and varied as the divergent social, political and artistic terrain it explores.

From Oct. 19, 2018, through March 2, 2019, “Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South” will be on view simultaneously at the Halsey Institute and the City Gallery at Waterfront Park, which represents a partnership between the College of Charleston and the City of Charleston.

Eliza’s Birthday Party, 2004. From the
Family series Durham, North Carolina. Photograph by Alex Harris.

Co-curated by Mark Sloan, director and chief curator of the Halsey, and Mark Long, political science professor at the College of Charleston, the exhibition aims to present a composite splice of who Southerners are today, featuring artists spanning the region.

Southbound shines a light on today’s New South providing avenues, through the minds and photographs of artists working there, to rediscover this place in all its fascinating complexity, from child’s play in back gardens to political protests to looming environmental challenges,” says Long.

The curators hope that by engaging with these exhibitions, as well as its affiliated programs that are free and open to the public, visitors will not only see themselves and their values represented, but also learn something about their home and neighbors.

Programming highlights began with an opening reception at the Halsey, which took place on Oct. 19, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Then, on Oct. 20, a brunch reception from 11 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. celebrated the exhibition’s opening at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park, which is located at 34 Prioleau St. in downtown Charleston.

On Nov. 10, a daylong music symposium titled “Sounds of the South” will focus on the evolving historical and contemporary music of the American South, folding in lectures by Southbound photographers, as well as renowned historians, ethnomusicologists and musicians, who will present on everything from praise-house history to photographing traditional musicians in Appalachia.

#ReclaimMLKDay, Black Lives Matter disrupts M.L.K. Jr. Day parades across the country, 2015. From the #1960Now series, Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph by Sheila Pree Bright.

Co-sponsored by the Halsey and the College of Charleston’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), Sounds of the South participants include musical artists Bill Carson, Jake Xerxes Fussell and alumna Cary Ann Hearst ’01; audio recordist, filmmaker and folklorist William Ferris; photographers Rachel Boillot, Lisa Elmaleh and Bill Steber; and Karen Chandler, director and associate professor of the College’s Arts Management Program.

Later, on Nov. 15, a film screening of Southern Rites features its director and Southbound photographer Gillian Laub. The documentary explores racial violence in a community in Montgomery County, Georgia.

Through its outsize range of images and programs, Southbound illustrates time and again that defining the New South is as elusive as it is fascinating.

“The photographs rearrange themselves into startling new visions of the South as many times as we immerse ourselves in them,” says Long.

For more information, visit southboundproject.org.

Featured image: Kelsey Herding Sheep, PawPaw, Madison County, North Carolina, 2014. From the Little Worlds series, PawPaw, Madison County, North Carolina. Photograph by Rob Amberg.