Arts & Culture

Southbound: A Photographic Look at the Modern South

The largest exhibition yet of twenty-first-century Southern photography tells a sweeping story of the region

Photo: Matt Eich

Calling the Dogs, 2012

An avenue of live oaks leading to an oil refinery in Louisiana. North Carolina’s Eno River, crowded with children cooling off on the Fourth of July. Iridescent oil swirling in the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Each of the 220 photographs in the exhibition Southbound—debuting this Friday at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston—says more than meets the eye, an inherent friction at work in every image: between Old South and New, black and white, the environment and the demand for energy. Together, the photos call and respond to one another, telling a story of the modern South through the lens of fifty-six photographers. (Get a sneak peek here with images selected by Garden & Gun photography and visuals director Maggie Brett Kennedy.)

Photo: Kevin Kline

Four on a Bike, Piety Street, 2010

Southbound’s alchemy comes from co-curators Mark Sloan, the director and chief curator of the Halsey, and Mark Long, a professor of political science at the College of Charleston. Sloan and Long set out to explore an “idiosyncratic slice of the South,” as Sloan calls the project, with the duo culling photos that range from the poetic to the political, and that “ask more questions than they answer.”

Photo: Susan Raab

Finger-Lickin’ Good, 2007

MORE: See more images from the Southbound exhibit. 

The exhibition, which runs from October 19 to March 2 in Charleston before touring, also features a documentary, an interactive map, and a catalogue with essays, including one from the Southern Foodways Alliance director John T. Edge, and poetry by the National Book Award–winning Nikky Finney. The gestalt creates an “ability—not to understand the South; that’s probably far too tall an order,” Long says, but “to come to grips with what makes the South tick in the early twenty-first century.” 


Here, are some of the ways you can experience Southbound.

Making history as the largest photography exhibition of and about the American South in the twenty-first century.  See some additional photographs from exhibit here. 


The Halsey Institute produced fifteen short videos, exploring the artistic minds of several of the photographers behind the exhibition’s most powerful images.


Southern musicologist and recording artist Jake Fussell curated a two-hour soundtrack inspired by the images and artists, for visitors to listen to as they experience the exhibition.


The exhibition is accompanied by extensive programming, including talks by featured artists, curator-led tours, lectures, panels, a conversation series, and more.


The Halsey Institute’s book, Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South, features three hundred images compromised of the exhibition’s photography plus additional works from the Southbound artists.


The Southbound exhibition also offers visitors an interactive “Index of Southerness” map of the South as well as essays and poems that explore the culture of the New South.