Southern Cultures 7.2 (2001) 34-40
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Living Graveyards of the South
photographs by Charlie Curtis
"Death suffuses all these pictures."
So says former fashion photographer Charlie Curtis, who has been working late on his time machine again. Readers of Southern Cultures will remember his "Signs of the South" photographic essay, which we published in our Summer 2000 issue. But unlike
"Signs of the South," which showed old and new side-by-side, this collection of photos reveals the old in decay. "Talking Tombstones" presents not only time passed, but time passing.
There are, of course, the literal graveyards through which Curtis has taken his camera. His lens freezes moments, but there can be no disputing the position of these flashes on the timeline. The broken arm on "The Look Homeward, Angel," the fallen tombstone of "Anyone's Baby," the weathered "Gothic Grave" that grows through a stone-carved oak--all haunt and whisper and remind us of time's one-way arrow. So, too, do the figurative crypts that lay open across southern countryside. Thanks to Curtis we can gape at the decomposition of relics of recreation and capitalism and domesticity and modernity's first intrusions. Violence and beauty permeate their dissolution. They suffer sentimentality in representing life beyond repair, and they leak hope--and even opportunity--in the slowness of their decay. "Southerners," Curtis says, "are content and comfortable with watching the slow decomposition of their artifacts, because these artifacts speak to them of their history. There isn't a need to tear anything down or hurry the process along."
In these photographs Charlie Curtis has captured memory and strength, soul and endurance, season and sunlight, new growth--moss and vine. Freezing time is a tricky science. Death suffuses all these pictures. Life does, too.
Charlie Curtis has worked in fashion photography and estate gardening. He lives in Free Union, Virginia, with his wife, Jackie, and his daughter, Emily. In addition to publishing his photographs in magazines, he currently is working to bring his pictures together in book form.