During a brief stint in New York City in the 1960s, Christenberry met Walker Evans whose images of Alabama in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men had already strongly influenced the young artist. Evans’ influence on Christenberry persisted not just in his unflagging documentation of the South, but also in the straightforward angles and the simple but careful composition of each shot.
Although Christenberry left his native Alabama in 1961 and eventually settled in Washington, D. C., he continued to visit his beloved home state yearly with his family, documenting the passage of time on the stores, houses, and buildings of his youth. Side of Country Store with Palmist Sign in Window, Havana, Ala., 1971, included in the present portfolio, makes several appearances in his photographic oeuvre. The building was once a country store run by his great uncle, Sidney Duncan. In the late 1950s or early 1960s, gypsies rented the building to tell fortunes. They eventually skipped town, leaving the destroyed building behind. The owner used their old palm reading sign in the window to keep the rain out. Christenberry returned almost annually to photograph it until the early 1980s when the building collapsed. Door of House at Christmas Time, Greensboro, Ala., 1971, is also typical Christenberry. The photograph shows a home with Christmas lights aglow. The homeowner, when asked if Christenberry could photograph the house, agreed, proudly turning on the lights. Christenberry came back the next year, but the house was gone without a trace.
‘15 Alabama Photographs’ contains these and many more images of Christenberry’s most iconic architectural subjects in their earliest iterations. This portfolio was published in a limited edition of 5 in 1973, the same year as the first major exhibition of his Brownie images at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. At the time of this writing, it is believed that no other set has appeared at auction. Another complete portfolio remains in the collection of the Christenberry studio.
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