It’s the sort of happy coincidence that might have occurred in an earlier genre of fiction without remark or irony: Rene Paul Barilleaux, formerly with the Mississippi Museum of Art where he curated Passionate Observer: The Photographs by Eudora Welty, currently on tour at the San Antonio Museum of Art, is among us, having relocated to San Antonio in 2005 to take up the positions of Chief Curator and Curator of Art After 1945 at the McNay.
Passionate Observer: The Photographs of Eudora Welty
10am-8pm Tue, 10am-5pm Wed-Sat, noon-6pm Sun
Through Nov 12
$8 adult; $3 children
San Antonio Museum of Art
200 W. Jones
3pm Sun, Oct 8
Free w/ admission
Welty, who died in 2001, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for The Optimist’s Daughter, but she is fixed in the popular memory as a faithful recorder of the American hoi polloi in the first half of the 20th century. Passionate Observer, comprising photographs from Welty’s tour through Depression-era Mississippi with the Works Progress Administration, has the potential to recast her reputation as an artist of profound visual as well as written gifts.
“I think what happens is when you look at Welty’s photographs of the period, she has this insider knowledge and this insider eye that makes her photographs resonate with this compassion, with this knowledge and connection that other photographers of the period didn’t have,” says Barilleaux. Because Welty was photographing her people and her home territory, he says, she didn’t focus on the themes that are prevalent in some of her contemporaries’ famous images. “I think that there’s a kind of consistent poetry in the images — especially in the Depression photographs — she doesn’t focus on the downtrodden, she looks for the optimism.”
Play “I Spy” with Barilleaux’s insight: Look for a “bottle tree” in a photograph with a rundown house. “It’s a very Louisiana-Mississippi thing,” says Barilleaux. “They put empty glass bottles on the dead limbs, so it’s supposed to catch the dead spirits in the bottles. Where another photographer would have focused on the ramshackle house, she really focuses our attention on the magic.”
For a complete listing of events related to Passionate Observer, including a Dust Bowl film and lectures by Trinity University Professor Char Miller, visit Samuseum.org