Picturing the South: 25 Years


Picturing the South: 25 Years


Shane Lavalette

American, born 1987; lives in Syracuse, New York

"Spirit Bottles" by Shane Lavalette

Shane Lavalette (American, born 1987), Spirit Bottles (detail), 2011, pigmented inkjet print, 11 × 13 3/4 inches, commissioned with funds from Paul Hagedorn and the Friends of Photography, 2012.27.11. © Shane Lavalette.

One Sun, One Shadow

A promising young photographer, Shane Lavalette was only a year out of college when the High invited him to make what would become his first substantial body of work. Lavalette grew up in New England and had not visited the South prior to beginning his commission. His impressions of the region had been shaped largely by its rich history of cultural expression through literature and film and, primarily, vernacular music such as gospel and blues. In these living musical traditions, which often function as forms of oral history and mythmaking by telling stories of love, struggle, loss, and a longing for home, Lavalette found an entry point for photographing an unfamiliar place.

Fascinated by how the landscape of a place shapes the music that comes from it and conversely how music impacts the way we understand a place, Lavalette set out in the summer of 2010 to photograph throughout the Deep South. He mapped out a route that took him through places of musical significance in the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, keeping an eye out for compelling scenes and people on the periphery to thoroughly consider what he called “the musicality of daily life.” While driving around listening to music, he struck upon a lyric from a gospel song—“One Sun, One Shadow”—that seemed like not only a good title but an apt metaphor for the basic elements of photography and the duality of darkness and light.

Rather than creating a documentary about music or musicians, through lush landscapes, contemplative portraits, and telling details, Lavalette fashioned an evocative arrangement of fragments that offers a visual corollary of the emotional tenor music creates. He developed these layers further by printing the photographs in both color and black and white at a variety of sizes and hanging them in a syncopated manner. “I wanted to move beyond obvious narratives and bring images together more playfully,” he explained. “In musical terms, I wanted to experiment with ideas of tempo and repetition in a way that creates both harmony and discord.”

Lavalette’s work was first exhibited alongside Martin Parr and Kael Alford in 2012 at the High. He published a monograph of the project in 2016.

View all works in the commission.

“I wanted to move beyond obvious narratives and bring images together more playfully.”

Shane Lavelette