Tema Stauffer’s photographs examine the social, economic, and cultural landscape of American spaces. Daylight Books, in 2018, published a monograph of her “Upstate” series portraying the lingering legacy of American industrial and agricultural history in and around Hudson, New York, and the book was nominated for the Unveil’d Photobook Award that same year. Stauffer’s work has been exhibited at Sasha Wolf Projects, Daniel Cooney Fine Art, and Jen Bekman Gallery, all in New York; as well as in institutions around the world. A professor of photography at East Tennessee state University, she is also the recipient of a Tennessee Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship award for 2022 toward completing her current project, Southern Fiction, on display this month at Tracey Morgan Gallery.
In Southern Fiction, Stauffer’s photos stop time, speaking to the viewer in the slow cadence of Southern speech. The images are imbued with references to a past filled with long, complicated histories and contradictions as conveyed through the everyday lives of canonical writers. The alliterative rhythm of the South and the stories of Alice Walker and Flannery O’Connor echo here, in Stauffer’s stops in mid Georgia. In Mississippi, in the subdued colors of William Faulkner’s kitchen, one senses a space that is utilitarian and not quite perfect. The bedroom of assassinated Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers presents itself as a sanctuary.
Community, Southern Christianity, and racial tension are all explored in this body of work. “I think you can feel the heat in some of these photographs, and that heat is intrinsic to the atmosphere of the Deep South,” says Stauffer. “I have many memories of composing images under a black cloth in 90-100 degree heat and coming up for air literally drenched with sweat.
“I hope you can look at some of these pictures and almost hear the insects in the trees,” she finishes.
An undeniable natural pathos resonates in Southern fiction, and Stauffer’s ability to capture this in her images is visceral.
— Jolene Mechanic
Tracey Morgan Gallery, 188 Coxe Ave., Asheville (South Slope). www.traceymorgangallery.com. 828-505-7667. Te exhibition is on display Nov.5-Dec.23. Artist’s reception: Friday, Nov. 5, 6-8pm.