William Christenberry: Photographs, 1961-2005

Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing Gallery

William Christenberry’s work records the passage of time in a Southern landscape that is both ordinary and iconic.  His photographs convey the poignance of an abandoned building, a lonely gravestone, and an empty dirt road.  The most astonishing aspect of the artist’s work is that it often does not include people but always speaks volumes about a human presence.

With William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, Christenberry is considered an innovator of modern color photography.  His first forays into the medium were inspired by the work of writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans and their project Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which documented the lives of the rural poor in 1930s Alabama.  By returning to and photographing the same sites over and over again, Christenberry creates images that are more than simple historical records—they are lyrical examinations of a distinctive and vanishing culture.  It is a culture with which the artist, an Alabama native, is intimately familiar, but he does not allow his affection for it to cloud his unflinching and objective eye.  In fact, he treats controversial subjects such as poverty and racism head-on in his work.

The writer Reynolds Price has said, “No piece of America has undergone so rapid a rise, high noon, and death as the rural Deep South.  In a mere two hundred years, an entire civilization flourished and all but vanished.  And no such spectacle has called forth a more eloquent witness and recorder than William Christenberry—eloquent and truthful and brilliantly witty.”

Aperture, a not-for-profit organization devoted to photography and the visual arts, has organized this traveling exhibition and produced the accompanying publications.


Reynolda House received support for the exhibition from lead sponsor Hawthorn, a Member of PNC Financial Services Group. The exhibition was also supported by contributing sponsor the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Reynolda House is grateful for major support of the William Christenberry exhibition from the  Charles H. Babcock, Jr. Arts and Community Initiative Endowment.