“SOUTH STREET: AMERICA RN IRL”
Photography by Joe Pat Davis
Location: A Novel Experience in Zebulon
Brunch Reception: Saturday, Sept. 21, 9 – 11:30 am
Photography as a practice, for me, has always revolved around the same simple notion: the camera is the best way I have found for asking questions about the world. Sometimes those questions are practical, sometimes aesthetic, sometimes existential. Pictures help me distill those questions. Pictures help to quiet the noise. Sometimes an image will answer those questions directly, more often than not they pose new questions of their very own. A couple of years ago a relatively straightforward question came into my mind. What can I learn about the American South right now, the place I have always called home and at times now feels like a foreign land, by quietly observing the great democratic stream of public life.
Who is the South? What’s up with us? Are we alright? I set out to make honest photographs of anonymous people. This project is pure street photography. All of these images are taken within the geographic borders of the South; some in cities, some in small towns, some in places you won’t find marked on any map. The people are unposed, uninterrupted, and often unaware that I am even photographing them. Some of these folks I talked to, most I didn’t. Each of these images conveys a discrete story, taken as whole in the context of the region where they were made those stories start to coalesce into a broader story about who we are.
I see plenty of contemporary talking points in these pictures. I see humor and sadness too. I see heroes and villains. I see humanity in all our rough glory. Most of all I see what I think generations of street photographers before me have also seen- we are surrounded everyday by equal measures of beauty and tragedy. If you’re willing to STOP and SEE, the mundane can be extraordinary. If you’re honest with yourself and really think about the images you have made, the camera is still a potent tool to examine the complexity of life.
Joe Pat Davis is a Texas based artist, photographer, and curator. He earned an MFA in Studio Art from the University of North Texas sometime back before iPhones were a thing. A recovering adjunct professor, he taught traditional darkroom photography and 2-D design at universities in Texas for eight years. For the past five years he has served as the artistic assistant, printer, and editor for the celebrated writer and photographer Bill Wittliff. Mr. Wittliff passed away at the beginning of the summer of 2019. Since that time Joe Pat has served as the archivist and legacy curator for Mr. Wittliff’s estate.
Joe Pat is a veteran of Slow Exposures, having been in the Main Show several times since his first trip to Pike County in 2010. In addition to his “South Street” solo exhibition at A Novel Experience, earlier this year selections from this work were featured in a group exhibition “Focus on Photography”, curated by O Rufus Lovett, at the Longview Museum of Fine Art.
Joe Pat was born and raised on a farm in rural Northeast Texas- a liminal region, more Southern than Western in both manner and appearance- he was utterly scandalized the first time (well into adulthood) he overheard the opinion that “Texas ain’t The Real South”. He has spent most of his photographic career trying to see just where and what is “The Real South”. Joe Pat currently lives in Austin, with his partner Hilary and a hound-dog Olly. Olly is super bummed he didn’t get to come to Slow E again this year…