SlowExposures 2021 Opens September 16

SlowExposures celebrates the 18th year of its juried photography festival held in Pike County, Georgia during the third weekend of September. The show has earned a national following by photography lovers, professionals and collectors who come to see cutting-edge fine art photography that features the diversity, contradictions, and complexity of the rural American South.

This year’s distinguished jurors are Alan Rothschild, founder of the Do Good Fund, Columbus, Ga and Paula Tognarelli, Executive Director of the Griffin Museum, Winchester, Massachusetts. A one-hour drive from downtown Atlanta, the show’s events are housed in National Register-listed historic buildings that once served the vast cotton economy in the Lower Piedmont of Georgia. This year’s events include the Main Exhibition of 70 images by 46 photographers from across the U.S., satellite shows in Zebulon and throughout the countryside, a presentation by Andrew Feiler of his recent photo book “A Better Life for Their Children: Julius Rosenwald, Booker T. Washington, and the 4,978 Schools that Changed America”, the Juror’s Talk, and the PopUp Tour of seven individual and group satellite shows. Also this year, SlowExposures welcomes The Atlanta Photography Group who will present a juried show of their members by Brian Piper, Assistant Curator for Photography at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Visit for schedule and event descriptions.

Why do we do SlowExposures?

Place matters. Art matters. So does community. And, when the three are mixed together by the SlowExposures volunteers–both natives and immigrants to the American South, a peculiar alchemy occurs. The mosh pit of backgrounds, religions, cultures, and political affiliations falls away in the creative challenge of putting on the juried exhibition that showcases photography of the rural southeast United States.  The result: An annual crop of pictures that manages to both pay homage to, and confound the stereotypes of the region.

In the beginning, our intention was to use photography to call attention to the incremental loss of our landscape, and the historic buildings that told the story of this long-time cotton-growing region. Along the way, challenged by the work of photographers from near and far, we enlarged our own conversation to include our experiences and impressions of the here-and-now rural South. Pose the question “What is the rural South?” and this group will weigh in like a very big, diverse family talking about religion or politics. We reference many of the images we’ve seen over the years at the show: traditional, edgy, the disturbing, the comforting. We hope our visitors encounter a similar experience and join the conversation. Our experience thus far is that art can both serve as a catalyst for change, and a lovely confirmation of the sacred. We are honored to be a part of that process in the making and presenting of SlowExposures.


Tell me a little about how the festival began and how it’s grown through the years.

A group of women (some of whom grew up in Pike County and some who had just arrived) put together the first show as a way to capture the history and cultural heritage of our region–before the bulldozers wiped it off the face of the map for the next subdivision. We’re right on the edge of the ever-widening Atlanta commute—we thought the medium of photography was a great way to ask people to slow down, be mindful of the timelessness of the landscape, and to consider threats to its integrity. We just did it—and it worked! We began inviting jurors from all over the country. They came! Many have returned every year. Photographers from across the country began submitting images of their sojourns across the South. We asked leading photographers and curators to do workshops and seminars. They graciously agreed! Our visitors come from across the nation to see the work, to socialize, and to share their talents in a very beautiful and authentic place—it’s a stereotype-busting experience for many.

Every one of our exhibits is housed in a late 19th century building that has some connection with the vast cotton-growing economy of the Lower Piedmont. Our parent organization, Pike Historic Preservation is dedicated to supporting new, twenty-first century uses for these beautiful, at-risk buildings. We think hanging the shows in these buildings lend an incredible context to the images of the contemporary rural American South.


What is your goal with the festival?   

On the way to saving the land, the historic buildings, and preserving our “sense of place” we realized that the festival could become the foundation for developing an on-going, vibrant “creative economy” for our region. Like many rural areas across the U.S., we have to find a way to reinvent ourselves without losing our sense of place and our unique character. And, we were totally blown away by the generosity, the vibrancy, the excitement of the photography community. Photography is both accessible to our school kids (who have their own exhibit every year) and a powerful enough medium to show us the rich diversity, contradictions, and complexity of the American South. We would like the festival to reflect that and support a creative community with year-round programming, education, and dialogue.


Showing all sides of the south can sometimes be controversial, as well as enlightening.  How do you deal with those contrasts?

We want to encourage conversation, debate, reflection, and everything in between. One of the best parts of SlowExposures is its scale—it’s small, it’s intimate, it’s personal. People often interact with each other because often their GPS systems do not work in Pike County—they get lost, they ask for directions, they find new friends. They experience the work in a real space, in real time, surrounded by others who may not live in their comfort zone—it is an opportunity that cannot be replicated in cyberspace.

The show is juried – who selects the photos/artists and what is that process like?

Every year we ask two leading members of the photography community to pick a show of between 70 and 90 images—we send them the images, make the introductions, and ask them to let us know by August 1. We often match a Southerner with someone from outside the South. We never know how they do it, but each show bears an indelible, personal stamp from the collaboration. The Jurors Talk on the first Sunday of the show is open to everyone who is interested in the process for that year.

Why should our viewers come see the festival?  

Pike County is a two-traffic-light, rural place that is surprisingly close to a major metropolitan area—the landscape is timeless, the history is embedded in the sites of the four major exhibits, and the seminars feature some of the country’s leading photography professionals. This year, 90 images were chosen out of close to 1,000 entered by photographers from all over the U.S. There are three satellite shows throughout the county including the Retrospective at the Whiskey Bonding Barn that features the winning images from the past nine years. Many of the photographers and returning jurors will be here for Opening Weekend, September 21-23—it’s a great opportunity for photographers, collectors, and fans to celebrate and share a unique experience.

What would you like them to take away from the show?

An awareness of the diversity of the rural South and how the region is reacting to the vast challenges to the integrity of its landscape, culture, and economy. People are always surprised at what they find.

How do you see the festival progressing in the future?

We want to continue to bring challenging seminars and exhibits to SlowExposures. We want to reach out to our young people and incorporate their ideas and work into the show. We would love to offer more seminars, exhibits, and workshops throughout the year—we’ll have to figure out how to underwrite this for the future. We want Pike County to nurture a creative economy for photographers, collectors, and teachers who can support and challenge each other as the field evolves.

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