The photographs of Carlton Wilkinson, former Vanderbilt fine arts professor, are among those on display in the exhibit Documenting Nashville Streets at the Hiram van Gordon Gallery, Tennessee State University through Monday, July 24. Curated by Courtney Adair Johnson, the exhibit features images by four Nashville-based photographers—Carlton Wilkinson, Duan Davis, Keep3, and LeXander Bryant—who focus their lens on everyday life in the city today, and in doing so, participate in a long history of street photography that includes such illustrious artists as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gordon Parks, and Garry Winogrand.
These photographers turn away from Nashville’s landmarks and tourist attractions and focus instead on the neighborhood life at their periphery. Their photographs showcase the disparate and incidental moments that unfold each day in streets and storefronts throughout the city. Rather than documenting the major events in the life of the city, these artists find poetry in ordinary episodes of the lives of people on the streets.
“It’s about being present for the scene,” said Wilkinson, a noted photographer for more than twenty-five years. Although technical approaches and compositional structures guide his eye, Wilkinson’s images capture painterly approaches to light, letting the medium of camera be articulated as he documents the relationship of the figures to their environments. “You allow yourself—and your subjects—to enjoy the aesthetic, the creative expression of people coming to enjoy the street life.” He describes it as seeing history as it happens.