Projects

Photographing the Southern Gothic Crime Drama

All images from the series Born on the Bayou © Matt Henry

A girl is attacked and the wrong man murdered. Are the rapist and murderer the same depraved individual or is the murder a simple revenge killing gone awry? Or are both incidents part of a wider conspiracy in which everyone in this Louisiana parish has a distinctly bloody hand? A new photography series from British photographer Matt Henry plays on tropes of the Southern Gothic noir.

British photographer Matt Henry’s latest project, titled Born on the Bayou, plays with the traditional crime genre of American fiction.

Set in the late-1960s and shot over four weeks in the state of Louisiana, the series features 21 images and a full cast of actors, with wardrobe, makeup, lighting, and location services sourced from the New Orleans film and television industry.

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“My feeling has always been that, rather than aping more nuanced mediums like film and television, the static nature of the photograph can be a means to pry under the surface of other formats and reflect on their cultural impact,” Henry says.

Henry’s work explores classical American iconography and how these signs and symbols are manipulated for particular outcomes. Focusing on the crime genre is, he says, a way of opening up other interesting questions for me.

“Ideology underpins every kind of story,” Henry says. “And at the root of all ideology is a viewpoint about mankind; brutal and selfish or forgiving and kind.

“The crime drama is so well equipped to explore these polarities. Variables such as casting, wardrobe, and location all carry such potent messages.

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In attempting to produce a condensed, storyboard-like version of the crime drama, the politics behind these choices becomes apparent; how we as a society draw meaning and create meaning from certain faces, body shapes, ethnicities, objects and locations.

“Stripped of dialogue, motion, and soundtrack, the still image brings these motivations to the fore,” he says.

Matt Henry, born 1978 in North Wales and now based in Brighton, England, researched the subject in his BA in politics at the University of Nottingham, and in an MA in photography at the University of Brighton).

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His first monograph, Short Stories, was selected as one of 25 winners in the PDN Photo Annual 2016, alongside books by Andy Warhol, Richard Misrach, Bruce Gilden and Mary Ellen Mark.

Matt Henry’s work has been exhibited in Europe, Asia and North America.

He is represented in London by the Michael Hoppen Gallery, in Paris by Polka Galerie, and Amsterdam by Flatland Gallery.

More information on his work can be found here.