Vicksburg (MS), Oct 2011. Joshua (b. San Diego, CA, 1984)
Review by Felicia Feaster for The Atlanta Journal Constitution
November 14, 2013
On October 25, the Atlanta High Museum’s Curator of Photography Brett Abbott organized a meeting in the Hagedorn Gallery (Atlanta, GA) with photography collectors. He did this on the occasion of the exhibition of “Down and Out in the South” (temporarily supplemented with some “Bureaucratics” photos from the High’s collection).
The exhibition runs until January 4, 2014.
Photography critic Felicia Feaster wrote a review for the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
“If you’re ready to have your heart broken, there is pathos firing on all cylinders at Hagedorn Foundation Gallery. As we build toward the season of thankfulness, it is a good time to consider these three stunning bodies of work filled with heartache and profundity.
Dutch photographer Jan Banning’s “Down and Out in the South” features raw, often hard to contemplate portraits of the homeless. His “Bureaucratics” series pictures government paper-pushers from around the world from behind their desks and highlights some shocking disparities between the global haves and the have-nots. And Danish photographer Trine Søndergaard’s “Monochrome Portraits” are contemplative, melancholy revisions of classical portraiture. Both photographers invite you to contemplate what a portrait can convey about the human condition.
Søndergaard’s portraits make us wonder about the inner life of these people, much as Jan Banning’s photographs of the homeless compel us to imagine what reality exists behind these faces. His often humorous but equally sobering “Bureaucracies” portraits show government workers from Liberia to Russia behind their desks, pointing out striking cultural differences within this single profession.
For “Down and Out in the South,” Banning offers excruciatingly close-up portraits of homeless men and women living in Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. Though we often think of the “homeless” as some indistinguishable mass — a social ill more than individuals — Banning defiantly hands these people back their personhood in his simple but illuminating technique. He shoots them close-up and prints large, zeroing in on their faces and especially their eyes, which pull you in with an almost primal force. Most of us are used to avoiding the eyes of the homeless, but in “Down and Out in the South” we are forced into direct and immediate confrontation with their gaze.
The first image in the show, an enormous 44-by-60-inch print, sets the somber tone. A freshfaced young man with close-cropped hair and wearing a plain T-shirt looks like someone you’d encounter in a shopping mall or at a ball game. That someone so young, 29, could find himself in this circumstance is one kind of shock, but Banning’s portraits of the elderly are equally harrowing. To see a woman like 67-year-old “Carmen,” with her tousled blond-gray hair and weathered face, you think of older relatives, people at a vulnerable stage in their lives, and the cruelty of this woman having to contend with poverty and fear when she should be enjoying the comforts and privileges of old age. The faces Banning captures register different things: masks of self-preservation, the confusion of mental illness, a tragic gentleness and innocence seen in one portrait of a young couple “Charles and Victoria” embracing for the camera. They are united by the circumstance of being homeless but they assert their singularity, their uniqueness. And we, for once, have the ability to ponder that reality, rather than look away.”
- Jan Banning
May 4th 1954, Almelo
Dutch photographer and artist. Banning was born in the Netherlands from Dutch-East-Indies parents. He studied social and economic history at the Radboud University Nijmegen, and has been working as a photographer since 1981. A central theme of Banning's practice is state power, having produced series about the long-term consequences of war and the world of government bureaucracy.
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