‘Engaging the South’ exhibition coming to ETSU gallery

Published 11:47 am Thursday, June 1, 2023

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JOHNSON CITY – “Engaging the South,” a collection of photographs curated by East Tennessee State University graduate Joshua K. Harr with William Major, is coming soon to Johnson City.

The exhibition runs June 2-July 22 at Tipton Gallery with a reception planned for Friday, June 2, from 6-8 p.m. during the Blue Plum Festival. Nationally renowned Appalachian photographer Mike Smith will be on hand.

The exhibition brings to light new voices challenging negative stereotypes of the South, organizers said, through open dialogue and narratives from a wide spectrum of photographers who come from many backgrounds. Featured artists include Noah Booshu, Matthew J. Brown, Amber Dawn Farley, Jerry D. Greer, Joshua K. Harr, William Major and Jane Lindsay, Julie Rae Powers, Joi West and Billie Wheeler. Their works illuminate the often-overlooked conversations surrounding the region’s past and identity:

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Major and Lindsay’s work explores the educational opportunities for nonviolent inmates at the Harlan County Detention Center receiving college credits. They promote self-expression by creating antithetical mugshots with an alternative process of photography. In contrast, Billie Wheeler’s introspective self-portraits distort the face and highlight psychological masking in modern society.

Powers’ photographs broaden the limits of identity in rural Appalachia by providing voice and recognition to the queer community experience which is often overlooked. Similarly, West’s photographic investigations of the LGBTQ+ population in Alabama are products of good rapport that allowed a process of intimate revelations that explore the vulnerable aspects of their nature captured in portraits.

Harr’s photographs offer a personal look into the landscape and cultural shortcomings. Many old cliches due to racism to cruel religious philosophies, poor education and hateful iconography are challenged, organizers noted.

Harr is joined by fellow ETSU alumni Farley, Booshu and Brown in their interest of documenting families, communities and place in Appalachia and the South. Farley’s photographs catalog slow change to the landscape and residents, including her own family in Shady Valley. Brown’s project displays a subjective and intimate view of his grandparents’ last years. Meanwhile, Booshu’s photographs document his exploration of the homeland of his blues music heroes in Mississippi.

Greer’s body of work addresses the economic impact, environmental devastation and negative health complications experienced by the communities due to the modernization of coal mining technology in the Central Appalachian Mountains.

Tipton Gallery is located at 126 Spring Street in Johnson City, and the exhibition is happening in partnership with the Arts Fund of East Tennessee Foundation.