Saturday, December 17, 2016

Southern History Book of the Month: Kodachromes

by Mary Anne Ellis, Southern History Department, Central Library

William Christenberry
Introductory essay by Richard B. Woodward

Alabama has lost one of its treasures. William Christenberry, celebrated for his body of photographic work featuring rural scenes and structures in Alabama and other Southern states, died November 28 at age 80.

Kodachromes is a departure from form for Christenberry—or at least the format for which he is best known. Unlike many of his photographs taken with old-school Kodak cameras like the Brownie, this work concentrates on his use of 35mm Kodachrome slide film and features many images that had never before been published; the book begins with shots from the 1960s and continues until 2007, and the compilation is a treasury of subjects ranging from storefronts to cemeteries to kudzu. As Woodward points out in his introduction:
The seeming naivetĂ© of Christenberry’s approach to his subjects . . . can disguise the originality of his endeavor. Along with William Eggleston an Stephen Shore—both converts to color after apprenticeships in black and white—he was one of the first to photograph what everyone had observed for decades: the spectrum of the natural worlds (sky, grass, trees, dirt) competing with, and being increasingly overwhelmed by, products flying off assembly lines in a man-made spectrum of hues.
Many of the photographs are not conventionally beautiful, as when they focus on tumble-down structures of decayed wood or corrugated metal, rusted-out cars, or bullet-riddled road signs. Nor do they fall into a trap of excess nostalgia about the rural South—one of the first shots in the book is of a KKK meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. in 1966. But many of the images will strike a chord with readers who have done a lot of driving on isolated county roads, or explored an old family cemetery, or caught sight of the faded paint of an old store sign. If this all sounds interesting, let Kodachromes inspire you to explore a few back roads and see what catches your eye.

For further information:
William Christenberry obituary

Kodachromes at Aperture publications

William Christenberry at Encyclopedia of Alabama

William Christenberry at artnet

William Christenberry kept time with Hale County images” at slideshow of William Christenberry's work 

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