PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE AMERICAN SOUTH
For six years in the 1980s, Baldwin Lee, an Asian-American man from New York, accompanied by “an antique-looking wooden camera and tripod,” explored the impoverished areas of the Deep South with the goal of taking portraits of everyday life, following the inspiration of Walker Evans. When he’d arrive in a town, he’d go to the local police station, tell them his intentions, they’d show him a map and “redline” the areas he should avoid — almost always those concentrated with African-Americans — and then he’d head straight to those areas he was warned about, trusting the sincerity of his intentions to protect him when he asked residents if he could take their picture.
“I am impressed by the sheer guts it took him to enter into each situation, to stand face-to-face with people of such poverty, and showcase the beauty of their humanity and spirit in the midst of squalor,” said Monika Andersson, assistant director of the Groton School’s de Menil Gallery, who studied photography with Lee while attending Mass College of Art in the early 1980s.
“While I love the photographs, I am also very much impressed by the process that brought about their existence. Baldwin’s photographs give a face to those people whom society has closed its eyes to. They become seen, rather than unseen. His depiction of dignity and resilience in the face of incredible lack is an act of courage. That is the power an artist can have.”