TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The works of two Alabama photographers, William J. Anderson and P. H. Polk, are displayed this month at The University of Alabama’s Paul R. Jones Gallery of Art, giving patrons a glimpse of the U.S. South from the Depression through the Civil Rights eras.
The exhibit, “Parallel Visions: William J. Anderson and P.H. Polk Photographs from the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art,” will be displayed July 7-Aug. 15.
A public reception will be held Friday, Aug. 1 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the gallery.
Polk and Anderson worked in similar veins despite living in different time periods. Polk ran a photography studio in Tuskegee and documented life at the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, during his time there. He was most active in the 1930s, whereas Anderson wasn’t born until 1932. Anderson, though born in Alabama, received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Instituto Allende in San Miguel, Mexico, where his work begins.
Polk’s main body of work consists of images that were commissioned by paying patrons, such as portraits of Catherine Moton Patterson, the wife of Tuskegee’s third president, and Thomas Monroe Campbell, the first cooperative extension agent for the United States Department of Agriculture, and Campbell’s family. Polk also took posed photographs of non-paying subjects, documented life at Tuskegee and captured images of George Washington Carver, who taught there for nearly 50 years.
Anderson’s photographs consist of images taken throughout rural areas of the U.S. South, Mexico and the Sea Islands of South Carolina. Despite capturing different subjects, the photographers’ works parallel each other.
“Both photographers exhibit a clear respect for their subjects, from the accomplished celebrities visiting the Tuskegee Institute to subsistence farmers, proud Civil Rights marchers and tenement dwellers,” said Emily Bibb, collections manager for the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art. “Perhaps unintentionally, Anderson’s images captured in the rural Southeast echo Polk’s earlier work and images of life in and around Depression-era Tuskegee.
“Anderson and Polk use light in similar and striking ways, silhouetting their subjects and drawing them out of darkness, as well as exposing and dignifying people and places on the fringes. Pairing the photographers’ works helps draw out these similarities.”
The gallery honors the late Paul R. Jones who, during his lifetime, amassed one of the largest collections of African-American art in the world. In 2008, Jones donated 1,700 pieces of his collection, valued at $4.8 million, to UA. Jones was known as a passionate collector who sought to collect from both well-known and lesser-known artists, a quality which makes his collection distinct.
The Paul R. Jones Gallery is located at 2308 6th Street in downtown Tuscaloosa. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the first Friday of every month from noon to 8 p.m.
The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art is part of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All American Team.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.