William Christenberry

Artist William Christenberry was primarily a painter, however he is best known for his photographs taken in Hale County, Alabama of jerry built structures that were characteristic of 50s/60s Southern America. After becoming discontented by the emphasis on abstract expressionism in the art department at the University of Alabama where he was studying, Christenberry said, "I began to question total non objectivity. I was more interested in the subjective and curious about things I saw in the landscape". This refers to abstract expressionism being a movement that explored nothingness through spontaneous, emotionally charged, non representative pieces of art. Clearly Christenberry wanted to look more at reality and the literal with a degree of subjectivity in his paintings. Therefore his photography which he was inspired to take up after an encounter with Walker Evans, informed his paintings and acted as a step in creating his pieces of impressionism. 

His photographs in comparison to his paintings represent sites and structures in rural Hale County with a pure sense of perception. Showing a large awareness of space and shape through his compositions and framing. The use of parallel lines in his photographs on his subject matter and against the ground and sky creates a really strong balance visually in his images. The way the subject matter is characteristically isolated in his photographs also gives an intriguing quality to his photographs which makes the subject matter feel two dimensional, as though we are already beginning to see the impressionist painting Christenberry is to later create based on the photograph. 

Christenberry is considered a pioneer of fine art colour photography and was a massively influential figure to William Eggleston, whose work I have looked at previously in this project. I find it really fascinating the way Christenberry has managed to work with colour in such a rich and revealing way in his photographs. That makes them particularly absorbing for a viewer, through being powerfully reminiscent of an era and serving as tokens of nostalgia for people who lived in the southern countys in this part of America, in the 50s and 60s.

Looking at these photographs has inspired me to look more at composition in my exterior photographs, in terms of composing them with balance and harmony within the my subject matter and how it is composed within the frame. Which is what I really liked about these photographs by Christenberry. I also want to consider colour more in my images and how colour can be used entirely within an image to represent the context of a photograph. As through being aware of this Christenberry has created timeless photographs that clearly reference a certain time within the context of rural Hale County. 

Photographs taken of the book Southern Photographs by William Christenberry

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