Photographer Joshua Kristal has been casting his lens on a wide range of subjects since 1994. Over the past twenty years, he has photographed everything from the Neo-Druids of Stonehenge to the Satmar community in Crown Heights to radical right-wing Michigan Militia members. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Time, among other publications. He also has exhibited his photographs in Detroit, and Lansing, Mich., Jackson Hole, Wyo., and at the Indian Consulate in New York City.
Joshua works primarily in a documentary style, and much of his work is a visual journal of his travels, capturing the eccentric sub-cultures found in places as diverse as the highlands of Peru, rural India and the urban ruins of Detroit. Seeking out stories about those that exist on the periphery of mainstream life, his photographs create compelling narratives of the contemporary folklore and obscure rituals that are easy to miss if you don't know where - or how - to look.
Driven by a belief in the power of the still image to effect social and political change, Joshua has volunteered his services for a number of non-profit organizations he supports, including Housing Works and the Innocence Project. A 2014 recipient of the Getty Images Lean-In Creative Grant, Joshua will be traveling to Africa later this year to collaborate with the Inspired Storytellers Collective on a visual campaign to support Girls Gotta Run!, a non-profit organization that empowers young Ethiopian women through the sport of long-distance running. He is also preparing to launch The Visual Aid Foundation, which will offer free photographic services to non-profit organizations.
Southernscapes, Joshua's installation for the SfDM, consists of two series, one black and white, one color, both taken during a road trip through the American South in 2011. The trip was inspired by James Allen's 2001 book, Without Sanctuary, documenting the disturbing visual legacy of postcards and photographic souvenirs taken at public lynchings in the United States between 1882 and 1950. Deeply moved by this tragic history, Joshua set out to find some of the sites where lynchings had occurred in order to memorialize these now-anonymous places that have faded back into the landscape, a willfully forgotten chapter in our nation's past. Each photograph depicts a place where a specific lynching occurred -- a tree in front of a Shreveport courthouse, a field along an Arkansas highway, a railroad bridge in Alabama, an oak tree in Mississippi. The name of the victim and the year of the lynching are written below each image, the most recent of which occurred in 2010. At first glance, these photographs are remarkable for their tranquility -- and, in contrast to much of Joshua's work, the absence of people in the frame. The portraits of the trees, in particular, are regal and betray no hint of the brutality that haunts them. With nothing to commemorate the lives taken there, these sites occupy a secret history unknown to those who may pass by. Inspired by the Emmett Till Memorial Highway in Mississippi, commemorating the Chicago teenager murdered in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman, Joshua aims to create a similar memorial to these events in the belief that reckoning with this history and its victims is a necessary step toward collective healing.
In contrast to the solemnity of the lynching series, the four photos that make up the Baby Beauty Pageant series are all color and tackiness; yet they depict a more subtle violence. During his southern sojourn, Joshua happened upon a baby beauty pageant in a small town in Mississippi. After talking his way into the event and roaming for about an hour, he was ejected by officials, but not before capturing some compelling moments. These images depict the kind of crude enforcement of the gender roles that appear marginal and quirky in a small town beauty pageant like this one, yet as Frank Rich describes in his 1997 essay on our national obsession with JonBenet Ramsay, beauty pageants like these are big business in the U.S. and the themes and messages about gender and sexuality as acted out by their tiny participants have made their way into the culture writ large.
There is no question that these photographs, formally quite beautiful, yet complicated in what they portray, will be interesting to live with for the duration of this exhibition. They will most certainly shape the conversation that happens within these walls - when neighbors stop by, when we have dinner parties, or when people come to see the gallery by appointment - which is why we undertook this endeavor in the first place.
If you would like to view these images in situ, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment. A limited number of prints are also available for sale. To see more of Joshua Kristal's work, visit his website: joshuakristal.com or his blog: http://machupicchuthis.wordpress.com/