“Few American artists,” wrote the New York Times in its 2016 obituary of the Tuscaloosa, Alabama-born photographer William Christenberry, “have been so identified with one small patch of terrain as Mr. Christenberry was with Hale County, Alabama.”
Widely regarded (alongside Walker Evans and William Eggleston) as one of the finest lensmen the South ever produced, Christenberry returned year after year from his longtime home in Washington, D.C., to the rural Black Belt region, where he’d spent many childhood summers, shooting the same humble settings time and again—warped and weathered country stores, kudzu-choked churches, rusted sedans, one-chair barbershops, faded Coca-Cola signs on boarded-up cafés.
He captured many of these straightforwardly composed but striking images of a vanishing South—“a poetic evocation of a haunted countryside,” Walker Percy called them—as small-format color snapshots with an amateur Kodak Brownie box camera, the core premise of the recently opened exhibition Bill Christenberry: Brownies, running through November 10 at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
“It’s a very intimate show—we’re only featuring thirteen pieces,” says Jennifer Jankauskas, the museum’s curator of art, with most of the works from the 1960s and ’70s and almost all of Hale County. “They’re a love letter to the state and to his history here.”