{ Stacy Kranitz: representation in an exploited place }

March 11, 2014 § 2 Comments

Do you come from a place that outsiders get wrong? That’s probably everywhere, right? I know for here, people drive through Missouri on I-70 and just see corn fields, or they know about the Ozarks and think it’s only populated with slow, happy hillbillies. However, I don’t think many people know what to think of the Midwest, or even if they ever do {evidence}. That’s quite different from Appalachia, which invokes broad images of poverty and pretty mountains with pretty much anyone you talk to. I started thinking about this when I came upon the art of Stacy Kranitz a few days ago.

From "Chasing Meth in Laurel County, Kentucky" | Mother Jones

From “Chasing Meth in Laurel County, Kentucky” | Mother Jones

“It became evident that Appalachia was a place where representation had long been vexed,” Kranitz told Mother Jones in a Q&A about her photo essay on meth. In the series, “As It Was Given to Me,” her Appalachia photos trail through the expected foggy mountainscapes and scenes poolgoers draped in American flag towels to the surprising, like portraits of gold-bedazzled men grabbing each others’ thighs and a woman standing between a Native American flag and KKK statue.

To introduce the series, Kranitz writes:

I am initially drawn to stereotypes. Then I look to demystify these stereotypes only to find that they are rooted in some sort of reality. I do not (cannot) exclude the stereotypical image from my representations.

The resulting images are interwoven with both typical and atypical lives captured through controlled and chance operations in the central Appalachian region of America. Ultimately the photographs highlight the flaws of representation in a place with an extensive history of exploitative othering by outsiders.

Photo by Stacy Kranitz
Photo by Stacy Kranitz

In subsequent sets, some stereotypes become subverted. Coal extraction cuts away those pretty mountaintops, invasive plants smother native trees, and the people feel a little more nuanced, more difficult to paint in one stroke. I’m also particularly fascinated by the tracings she’s made of various regional maps. With no explanation, they really force me wonder what natural or political actions affected the shape of each representation.

“It is this huge unwieldy thing that is hard to define when looking at the full stretch of land it occupies,” she says. “I wanted to try and make work that would extend the complicated legacy of photographs made by Walker Evans, Earl Palmer, Doris Ulmann, William Gedney, Susan Lipper, Shelby Lee Adams and many others. I have always been interested in regionalism and was looking for a place where I could make images that addressed a legacy of image making within the documentary tradition.

Stacy Kranitz: Ark in the Mountains

An Appalachian Ark. Because why not?

I love Kranitz’s sense of art history, and how she can rattle off other photographers in her tradition. What do you know about historic artists in your own region? As a bonus, I totally relate to her physical stature and reporting persona. Definitely an advantage when field reporting among locals:

“I don’t fit the stoic, silent observer photojournalist stereotype,” she said. “For a long time this made me feel very unprofessional, but I have come to realize that it helps makes me endearing to people. I am very unintimidating, physically quite small. Long ago I made a decision that I had to be willing to be as vulnerable and as transparent to the people I met as I was asking them to be for my camera.”

Anyway, Stacy Kranitz. She told Mother Jones she was considering moving to Tennessee. Let’s hope so! I’d hire her to come a little bit west in a heartbeat. You know, if I had a magazine to hire her for. Meanwhile, Oxford American recently featured some of Kranitz’s work in Appalachia. ThoughtCatalog talked to her about “the culture of poverty.” I’m just really excited about someone thinking these thoughts. Who else is out there rocking regionalism? Seriously, I’d like to know. Leave me some comments!

Images used by artist’s permission.

PS – Reading this made me think of the film We Always Lie to Strangers, a new documentary about Branson, Missouri. I haven’t seen it yet, but co-director David Wilson schooled me on long-standing traditions of outsiders coming to take advantage of hillbillies, only to find that the locals are a lot smarter than they let on. (That interview I did is in this month’s Missouri Life, by the way.)

{ Also }

2.5 minutes with Ann Friedman on The Riveter

The Opulent Opossum’s serialized collection of Almanac-type nature writing, including this one by an Ozark author that I’d never heard of.

“Everlong,” directed by Michel Gondry

Sodajerker on Songwriting with Rufus Wainwright


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