In 1980, Roland Barthes talks about "the impulse of overready subjectivity" the "I like/I don't like" in Camera Lucida, his chapbook love letter to photography. What we like constitutes our general, or polite, interest: a field of familiarity that's a consequence of our knowledge, culture, style, politics, and so forth. We have a general, enthusiastic commitment to such images but without special acuity. Barthes didn't live to see how prescient what he called studium would turn out to be, basically describing the corpus of images passively endorsed on social media. The order of "like" is where intention meets understanding and we all nod along. The photographer and spectator align. A little culture bubbles up. All right.
Photographer and Crosstown Arts summer studio resident Andrea Morales and I had met briefly at an event several months ago. The next time I saw her, she was on my phone, on the I-40 bridge at the protest, which I was live streaming in my car riding in that direction from Columbus, Ohio. The second time I saw her became the third and fourth and so on, as her camera-strapped back appeared on my iPhone again and again, until the protest did, in fact, end peacefully and I was somewhere near Bucksnort. Prints from that night lay scattered across a large table the night I stopped by her (temporary) studio. Having been a newspaper photographer, she's conditioned to this type of image-making: quick, in-action, fly-on-the-wall — with subjects not necessarily addressing the camera, but aware of it, in a tacit agreement so to have established this-has-been.
But most of her practice has consisted of documentary photography. (The difference for the most part being a matter of time-on-task. It doesn't follow the news cycle, so it's not as quick and cavalier in its choosing. For every Aleppo boy, there are millions of images it does no good to see.) Although not from here, Morales couldn't be more at home practicing in Memphis, and her documentation of our history-in-the-making (the Black Lives Matter protest for Darius Stewart in July of 2015; William H. Foote Homes, the last of the city's original public housing projects, slated for demolition this year; Memphis churchgoers' march against violence on "White Out Sunday," August 2015) has already been featured alongside images of Dr. King (speaking at the Mason Temple in support of the Memphis sanitation workers' strike, shortly before his assassination) in Places Journal online.
The history-in-the-making she is capturing during her studio time is in the North Memphis/Crosstown area in the time immediately before the formerly vacant Sears building gets transformed into a vertical village. How is this affecting community members like Donna Palmer, who purchased a home that backs up to the former warehouse 14 years ago for less than $40,000? Also included are images of families in the wider downtown area who have been impacted by change, such as a family in what was formerly Hurt Village. All of these images are part of our studium, of general interest for the community of Memphis. But how to look closer? For this, Barthes talks about the punctum, the "element which rises from the scene, shoots out like an arrow, and pierces." The way a child is held up in front of their caregiver at a public vigil or another crouches down with a light in their hand in the corner of an image. Look closely at any of these images, and you will see punctum.
The other half of Morales' project at Crosstown Arts consists of studio portraits. Here she invites residents of the North Memphis/Crosstown community into the studio to take their portraits. Much like yearbook photos chart the growth of one adolescent while also making record of the class as a whole, her drive is to document the present history and its occupants. This service is available by appointment through September 18th.