Viewfinder: Taking the ‘Southern Route’

Commercial and fine-art photographer Tamara Reynolds exits the main highway to explore the back roads of the South.  

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“Viewfinder” is an occasional series on photographers who focus on rural places and themes.

“I think everything is beautiful when seen correctly,” says Tamara Reynolds, a successful commercial photographer from Nashville, Tennessee.  Reynolds, who applies her unique approach and vision to editorial and advertising assignments for high profile clients in Nashville, Atlanta and beyond also pursues fine art photography on her own. Her series “Southern Route,” explores images of the South, primarily in and around Nashville and the route she drives to Nantahala in North Carolina to see her boyfriend, who works as a river guide.

“I would go to see him and I noticed that immediately outside of Nashville and Chattanooga and Atlanta are areas that most people never see.  So I started getting off the main highway, and stopping because I’d see these wonderful places that were going away.”

The photos in Southern Route are of the people and places Reynolds encounters, and her affection for them shows in her work, eschewing journalistic objectivity in favor of an authentic connection with her subjects.

“(This) is at Dotson’s Country Store in Northern Georgia, where they have an apple festival every year. Dotson’s is a place where people come and hang out. They had old milk cartons that people would go in and get propane or fishing lure- they didn’t throw anything away. I could have taken a picture of the pretty tree that was behind me while I took that picture, but that wouldn’t have told me about what the people are like who live there. And that’s what I’m trying to show. The people in those landscapes.”

Reynolds spends time getting to know the people she is photographing to try and break down walls and form a more human connection.

“I don’t want to go in there and grab something or take something from them. I want to be engaging with them.  It’s not so much a taking but a making of a portrait.”

While Reynolds considers herself “more of a people photographer,” her landscapes are equally striking, depicting parts of the South that Reynolds fears are becoming more generic and homogenized. Even when no people appear in Reynolds’ photographs, they feel both personal and vulnerable, as if Reynolds is seeking both to understand the South and be understood as a Southerner.

“(This was) in Granny Squirrel Hill in North Caroline. It’s close to Cherokee, North Carolina and Nantahala where my boyfriend lives so I pass that goat all the time. There is a small little house right on the highway and they move the stake around and he eats that kudzu and that day I saw him pulling on that chain and it was a car stopper. I thought, “Oh wow, this is kind of speaking to the whole Southern experience.” There’s a lot that can be read into that. Maybe the stereotype the South has been forced into being, and yet we’re pulling against that.”

“Even when I do landscapes or still-lifes, they are still in a sense a portrait of the place, and my relationship with the place.”

The Southern Route series continues to grow and evolve as Reynolds continues to travel, and the explore what the South means to her.  She says she’ll continue to take the back roads, and stop for pictures.

“There’s beauty in everything if we slow down enough to see.”

“(This) is in North Georgia. I was on my way home from a job in Atlanta and I wanted to get off the interstate so everything just wouldn’t blow by, and I found this little street. There was a lady behind me as I took this shot, waiting at the end of the street for the school bus to drop her children off, and those dogs had followed her down there and were sitting there waiting for her… It just seemed inviting. There was no intimidation about it. And yet you have some of the stereotypes of a rural area- the trailer and the “No Trespassing” sign and the rebel flag in the background, but yet you have these dogs that are freely walking around and I think the light’s pretty. The feeling was inviting to me even though you have this element that you could consider intimidating or a little sad, I don’t see it that way.”

 

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