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Mysterious South

There is a mystery about the South that hangs over it like the Spanish moss that drapes the giant oak trees wherever you go. Some say the mystery has gone away with the arrival of Starbucks and fancy malls, but Shane Lavalette’s photographs are evidence to the contrary. The mystery is conjured up from the southern nature, the sheer temperature of the environment, and the musicality of the landscape, mother country of gospel and blues. When these ingredients come together, the result is a charmed region where life proceeds at a stately tempo and whatever needs doing will get done—eventually.

The South is hotter than most places, and while it may be easier to capture temperature with a thermometer than a camera, one can feel the heat in Lavalette’s pictures. People tend to move slower, and it can take a while to get around to fixing things that need fixing. Sometimes it seems a toss-up whether a building will remain standing long enough for the impending repairs to be accomplished.

A woman stands on the porch of a multifamily home that has seen better days. Her gaze is into the future; she is not concerned with the condition of the house, although it will be repaired. A pile of lumber is waiting on the porch. All in good time.

Rushing never seemed to accomplish anything worthwhile. Best to consider the next step carefully. No sense shooting hoops until the other players show up.

The train stopped coming this way for a reason. Will the rusty rails shine like silver again? Maybe the spirit bottles know. The new day holds promise. Not certainty, no, but promise.

Something has spooked the birds. They take flight all at once and create patterns that mirror the clouds as they dance in waves, perfectly coordinated above the sunburnt grass. In another field the morning mist clings tightly to the grass, holding echoes of a banjo’s compelling rhythms.

Time to ponder whether to say a prayer, go to work, or simply lose oneself in the chords of the keyboard. The rain manages to cool things down a bit. Later it will be dry and then maybe a barbeque or just sitting with friends on the old couch, watching the music of people passing. Mystery is a tricky intangible to get hold of in a photograph, but Shane Lavalette has the patience to simply allow the world to reveal itself to the camera. All in good time.

SHANE LAVALETTE, BFA09, a photographer living in Upstate New York, has exhibited all over: Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, Harvard’s Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, Musée de l’Elysée, and elsewhere. View more of his work at shanelavalette.com

CARL SESTO is a professor emeritus at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where he taught photography for twenty years and where Shane Lavalette was among his students. He’s at csesto.com.

Hanging Tree, 2011

Dominique at Sunset, 2010

Birds in Flight, 2010

Tracks, 2010

Praying Hands, 2011

Spirit Bottles, 2011

Montre Playing Basketball, 2010

Will with Banjo, 2011

Spit in the Swamp, 2010

Alvin at Church, 2010

  © 2012 Tufts University Tufts Publications, 80 George St., Medford, MA 02155