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Jessica Ingram, Roadside Jesus (Waiting for a Sign)

In keeping with our current study of identity via place/memory, particularly as exemplified in southern photographers’ representation of the southern landscape, a look at up-and-coming photographer and recent PhotoNOLA Review Prize winner, Jessica Ingram, fits our topic perfectly.

Born and raised in Tennessee, Ingram studied both photography and political science and says her work is “motivated by her desire to understand how people relate, what they long for, and what motivates the choices they make.”1  Accordingly, her work merges the personal with a socially conscious and political point of view.

“Both of my parents were social workers and my father became a journalist. I was encouraged to be part of community. Through these influences, and through teaching, I am interested in using photography to answer questions and get to know and understand people, whether it’s people in my family, or strangers. I’m also interested in history, and thinking about the stories and history in landscapes, most recently, in the American South.”2  Although Ingram no longer lives in the South, she makes frequent visits to carry on an on-going project, “Pictures from Home.”

Jessica Ingram, Sunday Morning

Jessica Ingram, Detail, Granma's Walk to Church

What is most interesting about Ingram’s work is her use of the personal to get to broader feelings about life in the South.  As a fellow southerner, I immediately identify with the landscapes and interior spaces she captures and recognize the pictures that point to Sunday rituals and the ever present signifiers of that good ol’ southern religion.  As you look through the portfolio you’ll notice a Bible here and there, “rapture talk” (as Jim White calls it in Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus) posted on billboards, and the endearing sequence of Ingram’s grandmother walking to church.

“I use photography and the experiences I have with people through photographing them, as a way to ask questions, and to gain entry. This is true of photographing my family as well. I wanted to really look at them, and understand my relationship to them, and ask questions…I’m still learning a lot about my family, and it’s a wonderful, and difficult, but ultimately worthwhile experience.”3

Jessica Ingram, Jordan in Front

In “A Civil Rights Memorial” Ingram has crisscrossed the South to create a sort of reportage of both marked and unmarked locations of significant historical consequence in the Civil Rights movement.  The pictures, when coupled with Ingram’s captions, are quite moving and balance wonderfully between the beautiful and the tragic through their embodiment of both a personal point of view and a sort of direct, documentarian matter-of-factness.

Jessica Ingram, Medgar Evers’ Backyard, Jackson, Mississippi 2005

Jessica Ingram, Site of Virgil Ware's Murder, on the Docena-Sandusky Road, outside Birmingham, Alabama 2007

They leave us staring nowhere else but inside ourselves,” says Jason Houston, photo editor at Orion magazine. “We see the images first for their nothingness, only to read the captions and have our passivity plainly and unapologetically thrown back in our faces. She shows us how we as a culture don’t seem to really care. But she also suggests that when we can’t turn away, when the extraordinarily horrible stories are inserted back into our everyday experiences, we still have the capacity to cry. She reminds us that even if we don’t see it, bigotry, racism, hatred, and perhaps worst of all, man’s inhumanity to man perpetrated through forgetfulness and apathy, is still all around us. We just need to take the time to stop, pay attention, learn a little, and most importantly, to remember.”4

1. Jessica Ingram.
2. Nina Buesing Corvallo. “A Conversation with Jessica Ingram.” NYMPHOTO. 7 Aug. 2008.
3. Allison Zavos. “Q&A: Jessica Ingram, New York.” Feature Shoot. 23 June 2008.
4. Holly Stuart Hughes.  “Portfolio Review: Orion’s Jason Houston on ‘A Civil Rights Memorial’ by Jessica Ingram.” PDN. 7 Jan. 2010.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. pavloskaralis permalink
    02/14/2010 22:30

    I like how these pictures allow one to reflect similar experiences (at least for me), though I’m uncertain how relevant that is to her concept. I was surprised by how much the pictures mirror memories of mine (biking to Great Falls on Potomac Maryland roadways, my parents bed, my uncle’s beach house, etc.) “Jordan in Front” was especially striking because it looks almost identical to the porch of my Grandmother’s brick house in NW which I visited every sunday as a kid after church (big connection to the narrative of the picture). . . these photos give me another idea for the identity project. Good post!

  2. Jared Ragland permalink*
    02/15/2010 18:09

    I feel the same way – the familiarity of the work is one of its greatest strengths, then when that familiarity is put in context of the historic, often awful, stories of the Civil Rights series there is a profound jarring effect.
    Really glad you liked this one.

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