Windham exhibit displays local life

The Birmingham Museum of Art recently opened “My Land, My People” an exhibit featuring the photographs of the well known journalist Kathryn Tucker Windham.

“Well she is something of a state treasure. It is actually her 90th birthday this year so it’s a great time to celebrate her work and since we are an art museum we decided to focus on her photographs,” Birmingham Museum of Art Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Ron Platt said.

Platt selected text from Windham’s journalistic works to incorporate into the exhibition. Words painted directly on the wall wrap around the photographs working to capture her thoughts.

“What I tried to do was to bring the text that accompanies the photographs to the foreground. I just wanted her voice since she is so much of a writer and storyteller to be as much a part of the show as I could,” Platt said.

Windham took casual portraits of many Alabama residents throughout her thirty year career. Her subjects feature events from everyday life at work and at play including a checkers game and storytelling.

“I selected 16 pictures that I thought represented the scope of her interests and then with the text some of them were longer than others so I tended to work with the shorter ones because people only have a certain amount of an attention span when they are viewing a gallery,” Platt said.

Personal history plays a significant role in the photographs in the exhibition. Platt sought to carry this idea into the way the artwork is displayed. He established a connection with Windham to create the exhibition’s atmosphere.

“My connection to the exhibit was getting to know her and coming to understand just how important Alabama is to her and how she really does feel a connection with the state and the land and the people. That is why we picked the name,” Platt said.

Platt worked with Windham to begin the selection process, but they soon found that working from the negatives was going to be no easy task. They abandoned the idea in favor of borrowing pieces from other museums.

“When I first started talking to her down in Selma a couple of times and we talked about some of her negatives and we hauled out this suitcase from under her bed and they really were not in the best order and she said ‘You know what the Huntsville museum has a great collection of photographs.’ So all of the photos in the exhibition were borrowed from the Huntsville museum,” Platt said.

Windham’s career as both a journalist and a photojournalist provided Platt with inspiration for the exhibition. Platt also pulled from her outlook on life in Alabama and her sense of community in Selma.

“She’s real easy to talk to and it was fun to be in Selma with her because she has lived there for a number of years and when we drove from her place to the restaurant she was talking about how this church used to be this and when we walked into the restaurant they said ‘Ms. Kathryn how are you?’ and it was just obvious that she is real invested in the community and it was just really neat to see that,” Platt said.

Windham will talk about her photographs at the Birmingham Museum of Art Sunday, March 9. The lecture will be held in the auditorium and will begin at 2:30 p.m.

“She is going to be speaking here and she is known as a storyteller, but she will be here to give a public lecture about her photographs and I think that it will be really terrific,” Platt said.


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