Jared Ragland: States Project: Alabama
Today, I am pleased to share the work of Jared Ragland. I haven’t met Jared, but ironically, we both attended Hoover High School in Hoover, AL (although at different times). Jared often uses found images in his work, which is always something I’m impressed with when photographers manage to do it well. And what I particularly love about this body of work is that although Jared has laid down a strong foundation for the work, what with it based on the novel The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, he ultimately leaves the final interpretation of the images and their narrative up to each viewer.
A former White House photo editor under the Bush and Obama administrations, Jared Ragland currently teaches and coordinates exhibitions and community programs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His work has been exhibited internationally and featured by The Oxford American, The New York Times, and TIME. His upcoming monograph, Everything Is Going To Be All Right, will be published by Communicating Vessels in 2016. Ragland is a graduate of LaGrange College and holds an MFA from Tulane University.
Everything is Going to Be All Right
“All these years I have been assuming that between us words mean roughly the same thing, that among certain people, gentlefolk I don’t mind calling them, there exists a set of meanings held in common.”
– Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
In 1961 fellow Birmingham, Alabama native Walker Percy published The Moviegoer, a novel steeped in a sense of the collective culture and customs of the American South. Similarly, much of my work is rooted in my lifelong exposure to the landscapes, people, aesthetics, and storytelling traditions of the region.
Many Southern viewers may find something recognizable in my pictures; but while the familiar may provide a point of entry into my work, as the subtext of Aunt Emily’s line in The Moviegoer quoted above suggests, the context or combinations in which my images are presented often reveal alternate, more nuanced meanings. It is the search itself, rather than arriving at some certainty, that fascinates Binx Bolling, the main character in The Moviegoer. Likewise, my goal as an artist is to enact a similar search for understanding – one that is based not only on observation, but also on self-reflection, critical viewing practices, and narrative building.
While not always adhering to conventional narrative structures I seek nonetheless to build relationships between fragments of content, fashioning literary and art historical references from arbitrary sources and the combination of pictures. As I am less interested in making isolated, “original” works of art than revealing what can be communicated through the appropriation and sequencing of images, a large portion of my work incorporates the use of online archives, electronic photographic databases, and Google image searches that often fluctuate between notions of intimacy and distance, private and public, realism and metaphor.
In the series Everything is Going to Be All Right, both traditionally made black and white photographs and digitally sourced appropriated imagery are combined to produce a meditation on Percy’s The Moviegoer. Made in New Orleans (where the novel is set) and largely shot at night, the photographs loosely document a dispossessed urban landscape, particularly the approximate locations of single screen movie theaters that once ubiquitously populated the city. After photographing these locations, I input the theaters’ names – ones like The Tiger, The Cortez, Dreamland, and The Gaiety – into Google image search to create a database of images that shares the landscape photographs’ melancholic tones. The result is a body of work that simultaneously addresses the plurality of symbolic functions along with my own personal search for meaning amid feelings of loss, isolation, alienation, and malaise.
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