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William Christenberry: Photographs

July 20–August 25, 1991

William Christenberry was born in 1936 in Hale County, Alabama, across a corn field from the farm family then being immortalized by Walker Evans and James Agee for the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Some 20 years later, pursuing a career as a painter and sculptor, Christenberry returned to Hale County with a box Brownie camera he had borrowed from his parents. Initially he did not approach photography as an integral part of his art, but rather as an aid to landscape painting and a way of creating a personal record of the small farms and rustic buildings he had known since boyhood. It was Walker Evans, whom Christenberry met in New York in 1961, who convinced him to take his photographs seriously, and since that time he has gained a substantial reputation in the field. William Christenberry: Photographs, comprising some 50 of his distinctive color images, will be on view in the Stieglitz Center Gallery of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from July 20 through August 25, 1991. From his early childhood, Christenberry was drawing constantly and he confesses, "I never wanted to be anything but an artist." He studied at the University of Alabama in the mid-1950s when artists from all over the world were invited there as visiting instructors. He studied drawing, painting, and sculpture with a faculty that emphasized Abstract Expressionism, with which Christenberry became increasingly disillusioned. "I began to question total non-objectivity," he wrote. "I was interested more in the subjective, and curious about things I saw in the landscape." Christenberry first concentrated on bold paintings that sought to capture the colors, textures, and drama of the Southern landscape, particularly that of Hale County. With his ongoing work with sculpture, he attempts to capture the spirit of the simple structures of his childhood. His photographs--many taken with one of the simplest cameras ever made--isolate rural buildings in a manner that makes them seem like sculptures or icons in their own right. The abandoned barns and churches, rusted signs, and simple country graveyards that figure prominently in his photographs remind viewers of the constantly changing landscape and convey the artist's deep affection for the rural Southern way of life William Christenberry: Photographs, drawn from a group of images acquired by the Museum in 1982, will be installed by Martha Chahroudi, Associate Curator of Photographs.

Main Building


Martha Chahroudi

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