Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Birmingham News

Church Directory , Baton Rouge LA 8/2006 from Baton Rouge Blues
all reproduction rights reserved Wm. Greiner

Haunting memories of Katrina surface in Greiner's photographs

Sunday, March 04, 2007
James R. Nelson is visual arts critic for the Birmingham News.

Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, with New Orleans its most famous victim. Everyone who lived through that storm has vivid memories of that experience. For William Greiner, who was forced to move away from New Orleans and chose to live in Baton Rouge, the storm triggered a pilgrimage of sorts. He has assembled a group of his photographs in a tribute to the unmemorable, the commonplace and the banal. With a humorous and often bittersweet quality, his pictures are a record of the inconsequential that now lingers and haunts our feelings about things now gone.

This photographic journey is augmented by a small catalogue titled "Baton Rouge Blues." About the size of a pocket note pad, this little booklet is a commentary on Greiner's new home base. Along with photographs of life in Baton Rouge, there are perceptive observations by Brett M. Levine, Director of the UAB Art Gallery. This little booklet is designed to be read from back to front, a gimmick that reinforces the idea of retracing steps or moving back into memory.
The main exhibition of photos from New Orleans does not deal with dramatic views of destruction or calamitous evocations of devastation. What we see is a range of pictures that start a recall process. The mundane, the ordinary and the unremarkable become an almost unbearable part of our consciousness.

Greiner takes pictures of junk shops filled with the effluvia of pop and schlock culture. Racks of old 45-rpm records, religious scenes imprinted on cheap carpets, photos of the fleetingly famous and other curiosities that proclaim that someone's junk is another's treasure. In a photographic detail he records an accidental collage created by old record album covers. These photographs become still life studies showing fragmentary glimpses of everyday experience.
One of Greiner's photos shows a view of a backyard of a house that abuts a railroad track. It captures the desire for creating a special, private place. The freight train rumbles by the cyclone wire fence, which encloses a sad space filled with aluminum lawn chairs raised on a small square of bricks. There are empty little bird houses on poles and an old rain barrel. It is a real picture that screams against reality. Greiner's pictures of tract houses that achieve a touch of uniqueness with holiday decorations show how deep the impulse for proclaiming individuality runs in everyone.

There is something fleetingly memorable about garishly excruciating bad taste. Greiner captures the irony and the humor of determined declarations about people saying to the world, "I am here, this is me." None of these photographs includes people, yet Greiner's photos are notations of life. They are fragments that give determined evidence of place and time.


Blogger Christian said...

Recognition and praise much deserved.


1:12 PM  
Blogger Tim Connor said...

The article got it right. Your photos are terrific.

I enjoy your blog. Will be linking to it from mine.


2:18 PM  

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