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Jerry Siegel shows Selma through his eyes

Monday, May 22, 2017

Photographer Jerry Siegel was born in 1958 in Selma, Alabama. He went away to college and ended up working in Atlanta, but he kept coming back to the town where he grew up, fascinated by its people and places. As Selma’s population decreased, and businesses shut their doors, he captured what was disappearing through his camera, as well as what remained. Now the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia has published the book “Black Belt Color,” which features Siegel’s color photography in and around his home of Selma, Alabama.

Siegel built a successful career as a commercial photographer in Atlanta, then moved into art photography. Fascinated by other artists, he took portraits of Lamar Dodd, William Christenberry, Radcliffe Bailey, Benny Andrews and others. That series, known as “Facing South,” was published in a book of the same name in 2011 by the University of Alabama Press and the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University. His photographs are in the collections of museums including the Ogden Museum, the High Museum of Art, the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Georgia Museum of Art, as well as in many private and corporate collections, and he has had solo exhibitions at museums around the South.

In the middle of everything else he was working on, he kept going home to Selma, where he was born and grew up with his three siblings. He felt compelled to document some of the buildings and scenes before they disappeared, from the iconic to the everyday. More than anything else, he felt connected to the region known as the Black Belt for its fertile soil. From panoramic to large-format 8 x 10 to digital, his photographs have captured the essence of Dallas and Perry counties: people, buildings, landscapes and skies. Siegel has been shooting Selma for decades, and he relates to the place as an insider, not an outsider.

Georgia Museum of Art director William U. Eiland, who hails from Sprott, Alabama, a mere 30 minutes from Selma, writes, “These photographs speak of deep attachment, of reasoned critique, of the vagaries of memory.” He also mentions that Siegel often focuses on “the beauty and mystery of the commonplace,” a combination evident in photographs like the one of a sign that reads “Sinners and Rejects Welcome” or another over a display of bait that asks “Would Jesus Steal Worms?”

“Black Belt Color: Photographs by Jerry Siegel” includes 65 full-color, full-page images of Siegel’s photographs of the Black Belt, from the 1990s to the present decade, including seven panoramic fold-outs. It features an essay by Eiland, a brief essay by the late Alabama writer Mary Ward Brown (who was a close friend of Siegel’s) and a long interview in which Siegel reflects on his career and his process. It retails for $30 and can be purchased from the Georgia Museum of Art, which also serves as the wholesaler, or on Amazon.com.

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Writer: Hillary Brown, 706-542-1817, hazbrown@uga.edu
Contact: Michael Lachowski, 706-542-9078, mlachow@uga.edu

Museum Information
Partial support for the exhibitions and programs at the Georgia Museum of Art is provided by the Georgia Council for the Arts through the appropriations of the Georgia General Assembly. The Georgia Council for the Arts also receives support from its partner agency, the National Endowment for the Arts. Individuals, foundations and corporations provide additional museum support through their gifts to the University of Georgia Foundation. The Georgia Museum of Art is located in the Performing and Visual Arts Complex on the East Campus of the University of Georgia. The address is 90 Carlton Street, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. 30602-1502. For more information, including hours, see georgiamuseum.org or call 706.542.4662.

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