Review by Melanie Chapman •
“Impressions of the Past, and what Remains.”
At a certain time in the afternoon of late winter, the sun shines through my front window and fills the living room with long strands of a honey yellow glow. The sounds of children playing across the street subside as families reconvene to share a meal around a table before tucking in for the long dark night. Sometimes, as is the case now, I sit in my favorite reclining chair and feel both the warmth and the separation from activities outside, occasionally wishing to be a part of the lively chatter, other times grateful for the silence that follows.
In Southern Fiction, the photographs by Tema Stauffer offer a similar feeling. Utilizing her signature large format camera, Stauffer transports the viewer into the homes, fields, and roads less traveled by some of the most important twentieth-century writers of the American South. By documenting the well-preserved bedrooms and kitchens of literary titans such as Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, Richard Wright, and Flannery O’Connor, Stauffer invites us to gaze out the same windows that both contained and expanded those prodigious talents.
Her composition and subject matter evoke the work of photographers Walker Evans and William(s) Eggelston and Christenberry, while her fine sense of color is also evident in topographical images of unpaved backroads and muddy rivers that served as inspiration for many a work of fiction and reminds this viewer of the early work of Stephen Shore.
That Stauffer’s photographs successfully stand alone is a testament to her eye and appreciation for that which makes a good image great: attention to color, light, composition, and capacity to evoke feelings. The three essays that accompany Stauffer’s subtle and well-seen images each provide context not only for what the camera can reveal, but also what it cannot. Specifically impactful is the devastating story regarding William Faulkner’s cruel dismissal of his daughter Jill (a tale first told to me in college by the wonderful Photo history professor Ben Lifson) contrasted with the seeming peacefulness of the young child’s rocking chairs set near her bedroom windows.
Similarly, while Stauffer’s image of Medgar Evers’ bedroom evokes a peaceful place to rest, it is Lauren Rhoades essay (“One Place Comprehended”: Images of an Imagined South) detailing where an assassin’s bullet pierced the civil rights leader’s front window and penetrated his living room wall, that will compel the viewer to revisit that particular photograph.
Southern Fiction is a body of work that will grow on you, somewhat like Kudzu, the invasive vine “that has eaten the South.” – Come for the beautiful imagery, grapple with the choking legacy of all that the American South embodies, stay for the inspiration and the pie.
Tema Stauffer has previously been featured on PhotoBook Journal: UPSTATE
Melanie Chapman is a Contributing Editor and Southern California photographer.
Southern Fiction, Tema Stauffer
Photographer: Tema Stauffer; born North Carolina, resides in Asheville, North Carolina
Publisher: Daylight Community Arts Foundation copyright 2022
Essays: Casey Cep, Lauren Rhoades, and Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Copy Editor: Gabrielle Fastman
Hardcover, 100 pages, 37 color Photographs, 10 x12 inches, Printed by Ofset Yapimevi, Turkey, ISBN-13:9781954119161
Creative Director: Ursula Damm
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are copyright of the authors and publishers.
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