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Photographer Jared Ragland is not looking for anything in particular.
Ragland is the Eyes on Main Street photography festival artist in residence for the month of June.
“I’m looking for the space to speak back to me,” said Ragland, 40, a native of Birmingham, Alabama. “I’m looking at the light. I’m looking at things that just happen in happenstance.”
In the last month, Ragland has been on walking forays around the city with his camera.
“I’ll walk up and down Nash Street every single day and see something different because the light is different or someone is walking in a certain location that is a little bit different,” Ragland said. “Most of the pictures that I have made so far have been really kind of quiet, contemplative, and I think that’s purposeful. It’s the way I approach image-making in the first place, but it also speaks back to those quiet places in between of becoming something or once was something. Right now it’s not something but it still is something. It’s just kind of in between. And that tends to be kind of quiet and sort of engenders that contemplative kind of mood.”
His interest stems from a photography class he took in high school. At age 15, he went to New Orleans with an old film camera borrowed from a family friend and got hooked on looking through the viewfinder and capturing images of the world around him.
Ragland earned his undergraduate degree in 2000 from LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia, and his Master of Fine Arts in 2003 from Tulane University.
“I never looked back,” Ragland said. “I just made art.”
Ragland has had two stints as a photo editor at the White House, from 2005-09 and from 2011-13.
“Being on the desk there was like getting another graduate degree,” Ragland said of the experience of editing the images of some of the greatest photographers following the commander-in-chief’s daily life.
But all that editing pictures made him crave the creative process of being behind the lens.
“I wanted to make my own,” Ragland said.
He is using the residency in Wilson to recalibrate and fine-tune his operation of a recently acquired rangefinder camera.
Ragland has made more than 3,000 photographs during his time in Wilson.
“Everyone has been really welcoming here,” Ragland said. “I have the benefit of nine other artists in residence who have come before me, so people are used to having an outsider wandering around and pointing a camera at things and people.”
The photographer said he relies on the Eyes on Main Street project’s history when he encounters photo subjects on the street.
“That photo festival is outdoors, so even if they haven’t been to the photo festival, if they have been down Nash Street, they have been to the photo festival,” Ragland said. “I can refer to the photography on the sides of the buildings and people will know what I am talking about. For the most part, people have been really open.”
Ragland said he appreciates the effort of Jerome De Perlinghi to develop Eyes on Main Street.
“What Jerome’s doing is incredibly unique in terms of photo festivals and photo residencies,” Ragland said. “I am always looking for opportunities to exhibit my work. The breadth and depth of the work he brings into the festival is really wonderful. It also exists outside of what a lot of festivals are focusing on right now. With this festival being the aesthetic of the work focusing on documentary and photojournalism, there’s not many places that really still do that, so that’s wonderful. It’s outdoors, so it engages the community in a really unique and interesting way.”
Wilson, Ragland said, has many opportunities for the documentary photographer.
“There’s the deep agricultural history. I am going to be on a farm on Thursday making photographs,” Ragland said. “There is a diverse population with people of all kinds of ethnicities.
“There are social issues that are rooted in poverty, but there is lots of old money too, and people who have been successful. There is a wide variety of people and backgrounds. For a documentary photographer, the opportunities are really pretty wide.”
Ragland said it will be a few weeks before he has edited his own work in Wilson. His past work can be seen at www.jaredragland.com.