Observer

William Christenberry’s Haunted South

The noted photographer, who died this week, returned each year to obsessively and meticulously photograph the ever changing Alabama landscape that shaped his vision.

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

Church, Sprott, Alabama

William A. Christenberry, known for his elegant and haunting photographs of his native rural Alabama, died on Monday from complications with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 80.

 

Christenberry began as a painter, but it was his small photographs—originally intended as studies for his expressionistic paintings—that made him one of the most influential photographers of the modern era. He was influenced by Walker Evans’s Depression-era photographs included in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a collaborative effort, with the author James Agee, to document the lives of three tenant-farmer families in poverty-stricken ‘30s Hale County, Alabama. But while Evans documented the South as an outsider, Christenberry was a native son who called his corner of the country “my muse.” For decades he returned each summer to chronicle the harrowing of time and weather on the works of man.

 

Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York is currently featuring a selection of Christenberry’s work in an exhibit, “William Christenberry: Summer | Winter.” It juxtaposes the photographer’s classic subjects in the different seasons and is open through January 21, 2017.

 

Here, Church, Sprott, Alabama. 1971, Brownie pigment print, image, 3 1/4 x 5 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

Coleman's Café, Greensboro, Alabama

1971, Brownie pigment print, image, 3 3/8 x 4 7/8 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

Double Cola Sign, Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee

1966, pigment print, image, 6 3/4 x 10 1/8 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

Side of Palmist Building, Havana Junction, Alabama

1973, pigment print, image, 12 1/8 x 17 7/8 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

Taylor's Place, near Greensboro, Alabama

1974, pigment print, image, 12 1/8 x 18 3/8 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

House and Car, near Akron, Alabama

1981, pigment print, image, 18 1/4 x 23 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama

1983, pigment print, image, 18 1/4 x 23 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

5 Cent, Demopolis, Alabama

1978, pigment print, image, 17 1/2 x 22 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

Green Warehouse, Newbern, Alabama

1978, pigment print, image, 17 1/2 x 22 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

Corn Sign with Storm Cloud, near Greensboro, Alabama

1977, Brownie pigment print, image, 3 1/8 x 4 3/4 inches

© William Christenberry; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Hemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DC

Kudzu with Storm Cloud, near Akron, Alabama

1981, pigment print, image, 10 7/8 x 16 inches