Another aspect that I have deliberately avoided in my photography is the peculiar convergence of social tensions that make up the region in which I live. That is a mistake, I think. Just as religiosity, sweltering heat and guns are an indelible part of life in the South, so are the social tensions of racism, self-righteousness, and the well known but unspoken etiquette that allows a peaceful co-existence of many dichotomies.
The often slightly flamboyant characters that emerge from the simmering gumbo of the South are unique. A few weeks ago I was lamenting that I am not able to travel to far off places to take photos as I did in the Far East years ago. Yet, there is an exotic spice that surrounds me. I don't think I will reject the photos that show this imagery any longer. If the sunburned biker has a tattoo of a Confederate flag on his bicep, so be it. If the Red Hat Society is sipping mint juleps with too much bourbon, who cares? It's time to accept the quirky oddities that make up the life around me.
"Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic," declared Flannery O'Connor years ago. I suppose that's true. Trying to filter out the "Southerness" from my photography is choking the life from it. Southern writers, from William Faulkner to Lewis Grizzard, have embraced the Southern Gothic theme in their work. I'm not going to embrace it, but I am no longer going to run from it. The complexity of the region and its people is fertile ground for intriguing photography.
Yesterday, while attending an antique automobile show, I came across a pair of musicians playing Christian Bluegrass beside their pick-up truck and photographed them. The older string bass player appeared to be a good old boy patterned after Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit. He couldn't be closer if he tried. The guitar player wore a T shirt with a religious message. Being obscured by his instrument, the message appeared to be of a neo-nazi bent. His fleeting glance towards my camera was reminiscent of Jeffery Dahmer. Now, the bass player could be a Methodist minister, and the guitar player could be the president of the National Honor Society, but the unity of the colors, hair styles and the separateness of the individuals who were making music together made for a photograph that should not be discarded.
There is a swashbuckling exuberance of life spent in the South. Perhaps it springs from too much time spent in the unrelenting heat and humidity. Perhaps it exists because more sane people have left for temperate climes. Whatever the reason, I will not discard the Southern Gothic genre from my photography any longer.