LOOK SOUTH : Rebekah Jacob on Curating Photography

As an art dealer and curator specializing in Southern images, it has been a dutiful exploration of my own heritage to exhibit photography that has captured the beautiful, sober accretion of a place geographically below the Mason-Dixon and east of Texas (inclusive, of course). I have worked to focus on photographers whose images chronicle a region that feeds our imagination and that we trust no matter what. For the curator and artist alike, numerous exhibitions are about a land of which we profess a fondness and continue to artistically explore.

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From the beginning of Rebekah Jacob Gallery, photographers — such as, Eudora Welty, Dorthea Lange, Walker Evans, among others — have been essential to our curatorial program. The South at the center point of these WPA-era artists’s oeuvres, their pluralism of Southern themes becomes a poetic documentation that encompasses—and exceeds—Southern borders.

Perhaps current selections in our flat-files are a microcosm of a long, planned and unplanned road trips: images of clapboard churches, bottle trees, dilapidated structures — all waiting on someone to arrive. There are also images of bar-b-q joints whose interior decorations sparkle with white tiled walls, stuffed deer heads, ketchup bottles and checkered table cloths. These artstists’ raw, unstaged material share imagination between the photographer and viewer, spurring questions like, “Is this ‘for real’ or a movie set?’”

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As a curator and broker over the past twenty years, I have been honored to sift through hundreds of thousands of images, working carefully to select photos that poignantly tell of the South, my South…our South. I mostly black/white images but color images, too, that tell of the region’s mythic terrain, African American heritage, and compulsiveness with religion (God Bless; Jesus Saves). Throughout countless projects, I am always reminded of the technical genius the artists’ concise eyes, inherent skills of knowing when to click the shutter, and undeniable patience for the subject matters. Studying these artists through their visual essays, I have come to believe that it their dedication to the medium, personal kindness, and genuine spirit that grants a fate of being at the right place at the right time.

To watch concepts doodled on a legal pad evolve into coherent, visual projects is a patient and often grueling, frustrating process. However, the labor and time of these projects always manifest themselves into a stunning selection of photography. And we at the the Rebekah Jacob Gallery hope viewers alike will experience the story of a place (below the Mason-Dixon), whose intrinsic complexities are at the root of Heritage and a place for which we are proud, no matter what.

Yours Truly (And Southern by the Grace of God):

Rebekah Jacob ; Owner and Found of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery

Rebekah Jacob on Curating Cuban Revolutionary Photography

Rebekah Jacob continues to curate rare vintage Cuban Revolutionary photographs via physical and digital platforms. Thankfully, many collectors, dealers, and institutions join our mission and lend key works to these projects — expanding creativity, developing scholarship, and increasing market rate.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 was one of the most spectacular political events of the twentieth century. A dramatic chapter in the Cold War, the improbable overthrow of the dictator Fulgenico Batista by a ragtag band of young Communist guerillas and intellectuals occurred just ninety miles from the United States. Tracing the movement from the triumphal entry of the rebels into Havana on January 1, 1959, to the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, these images show the tremendous influence of photography in recording and encouraging the revolutionary movement in Cuba. Among the most outstanding works in our collection of rare vintage prints are Alberto Korda's famous portrait of Che Guevara titled "Heroic Guerrilla" and never-before-seen images of Che's death in Bolivia in 1967. Our inventory features work from over thirty photographers, including important images of pre-Revolutionary Cuba in the 1950s by Constantino Arias as well as classic images by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raúl Corrales, and Burt Glinn, among others. Cuba in Revolutionexplores everyday life in Cuba before and after the Revolution and considers the ways in which both Cuban and foreign photojournalists helped construct the image of the revolution abroad.


By Rebekah Jacob

"There is no doubt the these photographic projects make me a more well-rounded curator and dealer. As a gallery owner, I must delicately balance creativity, capitalism, and journalism in order to sustain my fine art enterprise. This I have learned over time and having made many mistakes. The Cuban Revolutionary photography projects have been a key case study in my career in three ways:
 
Creatively, through formal education, apprenticeships with top dealers, and global travel to curate inventory, I have mastered my eye and advanced my level of connoisseurship for top-quality, rare artwork — particularly of this genre. 
 
Advanced skill-sets are necessary and diversely applicable when curating exquisite rare photographs, such as those by Cuban Greats (Alberto Korda, Osvaldo Salas, Raul Corrales, i.e.). Through extensive travel the US, Europe and particularly Cuba, I have sifted through countless private collections, museum collections, and have worked with the most rare material to come from that period.  I still find the material alluring and magical.
 
Fiscally, the Cuban Revolutionary photography projects have been very large investments of time, money, and travel. Journalistically, I continue to be fascinated by motion makers; and over time, I developed a calling towards Southern documentary photography, Civil Rights Photography, and particularly Cuban Revolutionary photography –– timeless images that document those socially changing the world.

I have seen many of RJG’s projects –– both exhibitions and publications –– take on their own organic forms, becoming a voice for thousands who sacrificed to change the world. RJG continues to take on historical projects that explore monumental themes about social change.
 
I would argue that I have come to know the Cuban Revolutionary collections, photograph by photograph, more intimately than any other curator or dealer in the Art World today. As I leaf through boxes of inventory on top of my flat files, I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such rare and historical material.
 
I celebrate the success of  many Cuban Revolutionary projects.  And new piles on my desk await –– diverse collations of materials in preparation for the next Rebekah Jacob Gallery photography project. As always I'm excited to keep moving forward.”

843-754-0003 (RJG personal cell: fee-based speaking engagements available)

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Rebekah on Curating Southern Photography

There is no formula for becoming an art dealer for the the discipline, creativity and business style that one pursues.  It has been a long and, at times, treacherous journey, but one filled with thrill, adventure, and the unexpected.  To master my craft has been my obsession, my life’s work.

Perhaps my work has been a combination of fragments driven by imagination, social justice and politics, and mostly, my love of the South.  The Art World, for me, has been place of mythology, unpredictability, cynicism and exploration instead of exactitude.  When my mentor, Hollis Taggart, first hired me in his eponymous gallery in New York City over twenty years ago, I naively asked the question, “What is an art dealer’s career really like.”  “Darling,” he said in his dissipated Southern draw while staring me straight in the eyes, “you better damn well strap in.”  No doubt it’s been a wild ride.

I consistently craft and shape the story of my life and my eponymous gallery — the Rebekah Jacob Gallery — recording in my handwritten journals most of what I see, broker, exhibit, and relate to in one way or another.  They say an art dealer’s selection of artwork to exhibit and broker is a direct derivative and translation of who she is within the visual arts canon and/or what who she intuitively wants to search out and explore.  My autobiography is my theme, and at times, my dilemma and obsession, as I try to tell my story, document my travels, and express my ideas about politics and social justice through my work — all while mining material from my two celebrated homes and cultures:  the American South and Cuba.

To distill and collate this visual resource — an online viewing room / platform — of photographic gems, I endeavor several tasks: I sift through my gallery journals filled with copious notes; journey to particular Southern spots for extensive periods and research ; and reference libraries and photography archives across the US and beyond.  The quests are not necessarily parallel but complementary, and it is these three monumental actions that propel this creative platform into a working, malleable formation.  

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To select and curate photographs to present to both new and seasoned collectors, I immerse myself in treasured private and institutional collections across the US and beyond.  To move among the archives of renowned photographers has been a lifetime’s privilege.  With my deepest gratitude to the beloved Masters themselves and the keeper of these archives, I am grateful to have been allowed the great honor of carefully sifting through thousands of contact sheets, works prints, photographs and notes — many still marked by the artist’s fingerprints. 

Meticulously preserved archives at the University of Mississippi (Oxford, Mississippi), the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.), the College of Charleston (Charleston), i.e. —all have become invaluable resources.  I work diligently to select then share Southern photographer’s voices with both new and seasoned collectors, focusing from early 20th century - present.  I spend endless hours editing and sequencing images to arrive at the final selection of 30-50 photographs.  Some images included in the platform are published in various publications and news sources contemporary with the negative and since have widely circulated in print or web ; others have never been on public view. My diverse sources included vintage prints, estate prints, contact sheets, and publications. Anecdotes from contemporaries artists often add a human dimension.   

I have charted my course through the visual arts.  I have visited thousands of collections and artist’s studios all over the world, hopped on and off European trains to explore, flown on Russian planes in Cuba, and driven thousands of miles across American soil to mine material.  Perhaps my work has been a combination of fragments, completely drawing from my imagination, unpredictability, and cynicism.  And at the cornerstone these rare, rich, documentary images that tell the stories and complexities of land, my land — the Great American South.

Rebekah Jacob

Owner and Founder ; Certified Appraiser

ART HUNT: THE FLATLANDS

THE FLATLANDS OF MISSISSIPPI

My childhood was rich. I was raised in a secure family, dwelling in the nostalgically beautiful southern town of Clarksdale, Mississippi, which sits on the Sunflower River, a small tributary of the Mississippi River, the widest river in the world and arguable the most aggressive.  This majestic entity—and its parallel levee—has appropriately been the setting for masterpieces by the literary Greats:  Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, among others.    

My neighborhood, one of the oldest in the Delta, is picturesque, with wide streets, large oaks and antebellum homes and boasting expansive porches.  Throughout time, Clark Street has attracted acclaimed politicians, artists, poets, lawyers, and eccentrics.  Sundays were quiet as most magneted to the local country club for swimming, tennis or golf.  Always, whiskey.  

Historic images of Clarksdale, Mississippi c. 1920.  Photographer unknown.  

Historic images of Clarksdale, Mississippi c. 1920.  Photographer unknown.  

My childhood in the Mississippi Delta taught me almost everything I needed to know about creativity.  The Delta’s open skies were a canvas for dreams, the local librarian held reading circles presenting books on faraway places as well as Mississippi’s indigenous and seemingly exotic Seminole Indians,  the school nuns at St. Elizabeth encouraged the written word and pretty penmanship, and all the Mississippi storytellers always, by default, could find an audience.  

My mother could have written a manual on introducing one’s children to art and books.  She was often juggling a full-time job and motherhood, always hauling me off to dance lessons, piano lessons, or art lessons, even if that meant late at night or early in the morning before school bells rang.  My heart would flutter like a jackrabbit at the anticipation of engaging in that world of creativity, strategically packing my red backpack the night before with selected sheet music, pens, books, or paints.  For me, the extra circular activities were a barometer of well-achieved academics, as straight A’s were required in order to engage in the after-school activities.  Also, sometimes I got the feeling that my mother’s love and pride for me depended on how much I excelled at these art forms.  

My mother, a great reader of books, would orate to me every night until, by the young age of four, I could read on my own.  I, in my childish way, applauded her wizardry with the English language and her empathetic renderings of words to make the stories come alive.  Sometimes, she would pause and challenge me on a spelling word, still a challenge as I see many letters backwards and upside down.  My older sister Rachael, who could not keep her eyes open past sundown, quietly nested beside us, a closed-up bottle of fireflies often by our antique, quilted bed.

Rachael’s hair is “so dark that it’s blue,” as my mother would describe; her eyes the color of a Caribbean sea.  She has never been as intuitively interested in art or academics and has always been most concerned with maternal achievements, exactly like my mother. 

My mother would sign me up for me various art classes to not only explore creativity but to “eliminate my shyness.”   A quiet, loner of sorts, strange and people filled rooms were—and still are—challenging.  Feisty and gregarious, Rachael would care for me and guide me as her baby sister, walking me through long corridors and into these rooms, remaining present until I nodded “okay to leave.”  

My mother also loved the art of candid photography, and a camera was ever present in our homes and lives.  She was known to have two or three cameras strapped around her neck at dance recitals, graduations or casual family outings.  Her archive is a detailed series of images of the Jacob home and our progress as a family.  Her style direct and documentary, her camera varied from RCA video cameras to polaroid cameras.  They are still in my archive.  

My mother had a smile that could knock out a room and that’s what I remember most about her.  Raised in small town Alabama, she had a southern drawl of long i’s and spoke in contractions as much as possible.  Mama’s hair was dark black with a small patch of grey on the right side, a defiant Baptist, she always believed “that’s where an angel kissed her.”  She was a corridor to kindness and the template of a virtuous woman, the practice of which she lived; the verses in Proverbs 31:10-31, highlighted and underlined in her Bible.  She was the temple of Goodness and her gift was giving.  Her eyes were crystal blue like a clear sky and danced in the rhythm to her deep-hearted laugh, which was constant.     

However, kindness and graciousness did not completely trump her rigidness, formidability, and sternness.  She would “crack the whip,” as my sister Rachael recalls, if we challenged house and family rules.  Mama obsessed with cleanliness and order, could scrub the house down herself, top to bottom (even dusting the top of the ceiling fan blades), and then call the maid, Ms. Virginia to “redo.”  The only “messy part” of my room could be my art table filled with an array books which were juxtaposed to stacks of crayons, markers, paints, fabric and string.  My secret world?  A collection of scurried books underneath my bed, hidden by the white lace bedskirt and protected from my mother’s view as she had crickety knees.  At night,  I would read with a flashlight past designated bedtime, defaulting into stories like Black Beauty often juxtaposed with pictures.  I once checked out a book by Judy Bloom but then became hysterical that women were dying from bleeding vaginas.  That’s when my sister, three years older, explained the menstrual cycle and described a tampon.   

My art table was one of the first pieces of furniture I bought and I made the deal with the antique seller with my babysitting money.  One Saturday afternoon, my mother took me to the estate sale of a wealthy Delta family, the Peacocks.  I selected an antique Duncan Fyfe table and a small mahogany side chair with carved roses on its rail and a needlepoint cushion with mirrored design.  Preaching and insisting the furniture was nice and expensive, my mother had two sheets of glass cut to protect the table’s surface.  A quiet, contemplative child who never was keen on a lot of friends or busy activity.  I spent endless hours creating words at that art station by painting and writing.  All the while, a red-headed woodpecker nesting outside my window and sometimes flying inside to rest on my encyclopedia stack.  Every time I go home, he seems to greet me.  “Woodpeckers have special spirits,” my father once claimed, “and legend has it that they live to be 100, often nesting in the same tree until death.”  

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My mother could be utterly demanding, rigid, and complicated—her way or the highway.  Despite ice storms, sick days, travel, et cetera, we never missed Sunday church, and I had perfect attendance at school during most of my formative years.  I was always expected to be five to seven minutes early, by her watch, which was already prompted ten minutes ahead.  Honor roll was expected, and the letters on my report card never noted anything other than A.  When angered, she could slam a phone so loud it would reverberate to Kansas.  We lived on Clark Street, about two blocks from our Catholic school, St. Elizabeth, where I was trained on the piano two-three times a week by Mrs. Tavoletti.  One cold morning, moving at a sluggish speed, I had forgotten my piano books.  Mama was so mad, she drove me home all the way down Clark Street in a rant — backwards.  

I mastered the piano, dance, and writing, erring the weight that she was difficult to please and experiencing the disappointment when I failed to please her.  Mama was a perfectionist about our appearance.  As most children rolled their hair in sponge rollers for Sunday church, my sister and I had ours “done up” every single night.  Our clothes (sock and underwear, too) were always ironed, and we rarely wore the same dress twice to fancy functions where we were to be photographed.  Those expectations have manifested and perpetuated in my adult life, thus defining me to some degree as a artist of sorts, workaholic, over-achiever, and might I add, a fashionista of well-ironed attire.  

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While my mother kept the house moving to her delight and high standards, my father mostly worked, departing before daybreak and arriving after sunset.  My father, owner of a furniture company, located only a few blocks from my house in the business district.  It was a world of sofas, couches as well a cash registers and large bound hand-written ledgers.  

Daddy is still the hardest worked I have ever known.  His work ethic was instilled in me early, and I still compare my progress to his unsurmountable success early in life.  I don’t remember a day that he didn’t reflect and engage in his company, constantly “feeding the organism,” as he would say. 

My father was sort of a miracle.  He was tall, dark, and handsome and alway walked with a confident swagger.  One of seven children of French descent, he was the only one to inherit green eyes, which shifted in colors to grey or blue, depending on the light.  His eyes, set deep and expressive, said everything about his current state—stress, joy, concern, contemplation, and more.  I am often reminded of his eyes—and their honest translation of thought and emotions—as I wear them myself.  “Genetics are a funny thing,” my mother would suggest.  At work, he was conscious of his appearance (yes, slightly vain), so my mother always saw to it that his khakis and long sleeve shirts were pressed with “triple extra starch.”  Sometimes it would seem as though his garments were standing up on their own. I “inherited” the same trait.  If I am not dressed to the nines at work, I am clearly having a nervous breakdown.

Though full of love and admiration for us, my mother could be emotional, irrational, high-strung, rigid, and complicated—the antithesis of my father.  He was wonderfully tender when it came to his two daughters.  He was gentle and kind, with a diplomatic and graceful approach to life and work.  I never remember hearing him raise his voice and he tucked us in every night.  He left us encouraging notes in our lunch sacks and later, when we were in college, mailed cards and notes to say hello and to remind us that he believed in us.  He always signed off, “Dear Ole Day.”  

I shared equal love for my parents, but I was a carbon copy of my father’s personality, political interests, brain power, intellectualism, and entrepreneurial pursuits.  My mother encouraged the arts, and my father, business and financial independence.  I have perhaps magically become a hybrid of them both.

 

BILL STEBER & ADAM SMITH:  MISSISSIPPI DELTA 

By, Rebekah Jacob:  Owner & Founder of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery & Vedado Gallery

#ArtHunt #TravelDiaries #Wanderlust #ArtOfTheDeal

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