Birney, Where Have You Gone?

As I concluded last review, I mentioned my love of disappearing into another world. Several summers ago I showed the work I was doing in New Orleans to David Houston at the Ogden Museum. After we talked about my work, David kindly offered to give me a tour of the museum. I accepted. On this tour David introduced me to Birney Imes and his images from juke joints in the south. This work instantly grabbed a hold of me and pulled me into another place, right then and there. And it has not let go since. One of my favorite books of all time is Birney Imes' Juke Joint. In the Afterword, Imes writes:

"Growing up white in the segregated South of the 1950s, I was only vaguely aware of another culture, another world that existed in the midst of my own. As a child I saw things out of the corner of my eye, but the question of race was one I never had to face straight on. When my high school was integrated in the late sixties, the veil began to part, and I started to see the richness and diversity of a culture that till then had been hidden from me. When I began photographing six or seven years later, it was in part my wish and my need to overcome this ignorance that helped make my choice of subject an obvious one."

Houston told me that after making this work Imes has not really made many images. It's a shame really. Imes has produced some of the most beautiful images I have ever seen here and even more importantly Imes uses the camera to cross boundaries, to learn, to better understand a world and culture in which he was an outsider and in the process understand a part of himself. Sometimes a real and sober understanding of the world seen through the doors a camera can unlock makes picking up that camera again a difficult task.