Since 1996, the High Museum’s “Picturing the South” project has provided viewers with a new perspective on the perplexing region. Alex Harris’s “Our Strange New Land” serves as the newest addition to this collection. The Georgia native’s photography exhibit follows the productions of contemporary, independent films set in the region, shedding new light on the rising industry’s commentary on the South.
The exhibit highlights many of the issues that communities of the South must tackle as the region struggles to overcome a dark past in hopes of arriving at a brighter future. Whether it is a Civil War drama that delves into a troubling history or a narrative that delves into the current disarray of Miami’s oldest housing projects, the films at the focus of Alex Harris’s photography grapple with complex themes such as race, violence and relationships.
“This exhibit is a conversation about the South … about the way in which we all engage with our world,” Alex Harris explained. “[About] the stories we all need, that we look for and get people to tell us about how we move through our lives.”
The stories of the South are full of complexity and nuances, and Alex Harris’s simultaneous focus on both photography and filmmaking — on both passiveness and engagement — adds to the layers of duality showcased throughout his work. It is not only stillness and action that are juxtaposed, but also reality and fantasy.
While most of Alex Harris’s images focus on the set designs that the independent filmmakers created, the acclaimed Georgia-native photographer also created sets of his own. Finding mystery and intrigue from periphery sources, Alex Harris photographed his subjects outside the movie sets, such as bystanders or passing scenery.
Gregory Harris, the High’s Associate Curator of Photography, elaborated on photography’s unique tension between fact and fiction. “Photography can play with the expectation that the photograph tells you facts, tells you the truth about the world,” said Gregory Harris. “[Alex] Harris plays with that by sometimes giving you just that and other times giving you something entirely fabricated.”
By entering into Alex Harris’s portrait of the South — both factual and mythical — viewers gain a new perspective on the complex region and the interplay between reality and fantasy. “I see a cumulative portrait,” said Alex Harris, “not only of these productions and of the South, but of an idea that has long been celebrated in literature, explored in science and conveyed by philosophers — that is, the ways in which we are all actors in our own lives, creating our sets, practicing our lines, refining our characters, playing ourselves.”
Alex Harris’s “Our Strange New Land” exhibit will be displayed at the High Museum until May 3 as a feature of the museum’s “Picturing the South” project.