Photographer Baldwin Lee’s project Photographs of Black Americans in the South will be on exhibition in the Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery from July 31 through September 18.
The collection is a compilation of seven years worth of work. In the early 1980s, Lee spent two weeks driving the South, taking photos for project inspiration. After 1,900 miles of traveling, he accumulated 350 sheets of four-by-five inch black and white sheet film. From Knoxville to New Orleans, Lee collected shots of landscape, still lifes, architecture, abstract patterns, animals and people. The people in his photos were young and old, well-to-do and poor, rural and urban, black and white.
“The photographs in this exhibition,” says Lee, “are of those people, who in the process of presenting themselves to me and my camera, revealed grace and poignancy so extraordinary, that it far exceeded my pedestrian ambitions.”
These initial photographs moved him to begin photographing Black Americans in the South, which he would later call the most important work of his career. By his own discovery or through the help of locals, Lee would enter predominately black areas of rural towns and cities, find subjects he found to be ‘distinctive,’ obtain their permission, and begin photographing.
Lee is a professor of Art at the University of Tennessee where he teaches photography. He received a BS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a MFA at Yale University School of Art, where he studied with photographer Walker Evans. Lee has shown his work nationally, and received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Museum of the City of New York, University of Michigan Museum of Art, University of Kentucky Art Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and the Nashville Music City Center.
The Tennessee Arts Commission gallery is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.