MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Throughout most of the past two decades, Alabama photographer Jerry Siegel has focused his lens on a subject he is passionate about — his contemporaries in the art world. Siegel, a Selma native, has set out to capture in still film photography some of the South's most well-known artists — not in formal portraits, but in intimate settings, their studios and homes.
He has found that a studio, where an artist's creative energy is most intense, is often the place where they feel most comfortable and relaxed. Most themselves.
Through June 1 at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, the exhibition "Creator/Created: Portraits and Artists from the Permanent Collection," gathers Siegel's portraits of artists who have works in MMFA's permanent collection, pairing them alongside the featured artists' well known works.
Artists representing a variety of media — photography, painting, sculpture, clay, fabric, mixed media — are represented here. Among them are William Christenberry, Thornton Dial Sr., Lamar Dodd, Crawford Gillis, Dale Kennington, Charlie Lucas, Charles Shannon, Mose Tolliver, Melissa Tubbs and Yvonne Wells.
"The project actually started with me being a portrait photographer, loving to shoot pictures of anybody," Siegel said at a recent reception at the museum celebrating the exhibition, with many of the subjects present. Siegel's close friend Crawford Gillis, whose portrait and work are included, was the first. Later, Siegel had commissions to photograph Georgia artist Lamar Dodd and Bill Eiland, director of the Georgia Museum of Art.
"This group of four or five portraits suggested that I had a great series of late-career Southern artists," Siegel said. "At that point, I was just shooting pictures of friends and artists that I wanted to meet. It kind of snowballed from there."
Siegel's book, "Facing South: Portraits of Southern Artists" (University of Alabama Press, 2012), includes 100 of his portraits of renowned Southern artists.
A substantial number of his portraits are of artists whose work is in MMFA's permanent collection. One of them is noted pen-and-ink artist Melissa B. Tubbs of Montgomery. Before their photo encounter, Tubbs and Siegel had never met.
"I got a phone call last fall and this man introduced himself as Jerry Siegel, and I knew his name — I knew who he was," Tubbs said at the reception, standing alongside her portrait and her works. "And then he said he wanted to come take my picture. He said that the museum asked him to. My first thought, and I said it out loud to him, was 'I don't like to have my picture taken. But if the museum wants it done, OK.'"
"And he came and spent a couple of hours at my studio and home. It turned out to be great fun, because he has the most wonderful camera, that makes no noise. I wasn't waiting for that click. I could feel myself relaxing. And I can guarantee you that this was one of the ones he took with that camera. And I like this photo. I think he did a great job."
Siegel said he has become aware of the benefits of this semi-stealth mode of working.