The SCAD Museum of Art presents “In the Present: Five Decades” by veteran photographer Elaine Mayes, exploring works that span 50 years of her career. The exhibition includes iconic works from the 1960s and ‘70s as well as mines lesser-known aspects of her practice to consider in relation to recent work. The curatorial framework centers on Mayes’ broader philosophy surrounding image making, which stems from her immersion in the moment and in producing imagery with a visual vocabulary that stands the test of time.
A main focus and emphasis for Mayes’ work has been investigations of “seeing” and documentary forms in photography. This interest led to a number of projects that sought out close-at-hand situations that became subject material for her photographs.
This exhibition consists of more than 90 works and includes examples from the black-and-white series “Autolandscapes,” which challenged traditional representation of the American landscape. For this series, Mayes photographed through the window of a moving car. These images manifest her experience of a proliferating mobile society and its increasing separation from the natural world. An earlier group of works, broadly known as “Haight Ashbury Portraits,” includes iconic portraits of both friends and strangers during the height of the hippie, counterculture movement of the 1960s. Here, Mayes is embedded in the scene that she records, unlike the more removed approach to the later “Autolandscapes” series.
Travel, movement, and everyday observations remained a steadfast fount of inspiration for Mayes. One of her earliest projects, “El Camino Real,” was funded by The Federal Bureau of Public Roads and is connected to her deep-rooted interest in the road as she began the practice of documenting places in her world: in this case, photographing the culture and land alongside the roadway. While appreciating how photography can show us the past, her work is tied together by the need to work in ways connected to the present and a curiosity for finding out what she did not already know. In turn, her photography became an exploration and a record of her often-nomadic life.
“In the Present: Five Decades” is made possible through a grant received from Kathy Levitt. The exhibition is curated by Storm Janse van Rensburg, head curator of SCAD Exhibitions and Susan Laney (B.F.A, photography, 1998), guest curator.