Angela West is a Yale graduate and photographer from North Georgia whose pictures I’ve admired for some time. Her projects invariably capture the North Georgia mountain light – a warm and delicate gold that is often filtered through thick swaths of green vegetation or the pastels of rhododendron and azalea. But more than just capturing the landscape surrounding her home in Dahlonega, an old gold rush town and gateway to the Appalachians, West wonderfully articulates her relationships with the people around her, from her family to her neighbors. The pictures are always beautiful, always teeming with some sort of intimacy, yet they also hold a sort of distance – describing not so much the obvious, but instead the complex, often inaccessible qualities that define our relationships to people and place.
West’s most famous body of work, My Father, is described by Felicia Feaster in an exhibition review for Atlanta paper Creative Loafing, as “a kind of homegrown anthropology. Though she speaks the native tongue and knows the players, things seem quite strange. The truth is elusive when seen through West’s viewfinder, as elusive as the photograph of Mr. West peering out into the night from the glowing modern cave of a camper he makes his backyard retreat. Though his gaze is often direct, his facial expression is confoundingly hard to read. He pays his daughter the courtesy of posing for her photographs, but he is clearly not the sort of man to serve up his soul for public delectation… West’s project seems to be about the frustrating effort of capturing someone you know so well who nevertheless emerges a mystery in the developing fluid. Dressed in his cul-de-sac warrior’s garb — button-down shirts, whimsical golf hat, carved walking stick, an Army jacket — Mr. West demonstrates a tension between tamed domesticity and the remnants of adventurous masculinity that still cling to him.”
And the pictures, despite all of their seriousness, obfuscation and sexual undertones (or maybe actually becuase of all that – note West’s father is almost always holding something which doubles as phallic symbol – a machete, a garden tool, a hose) are funny. Certainly not the laugh-out-loud sort of funny, but the kind of funny you recognize deep down because it is so easy to see our own fathers in these pictures. We can put ourselves right in West’s position and feel the push/pull of love and affection, of the power play that goes on within father/child relationships, as well as feeling a kind of curiosity and a real sort of genuine embarrassment.
Check out more of West’s work at her website. In light of our current class readings on Bill Christenberry and the topics of identity/memory/landscape, be sure to look at West’s Familiar Landscape and My 33rd Spring portfolios. They’re wonderful.