Monday, October 12, 2009

On the Road with Benny Andrews

On the Road with Benny Andrews by Stanley Staniski

In the spring of 2004, Benny Andrews initiated a project in conjunction with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art to explore the migrant experience in America through a series of annual journeys culminating in three exhibitions in New Orleans and New York. These journeys would focus on three aspects of the American migrant experience: the 1930s Dust Bowl migration along Route 66, the forced march of native peoples along the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and the 20th century African-American exodus from the South to New York, Chicago and Detroit. Noted photographer and filmmaker, Stanley Staniski, was invited to document Benny's research for The Migrant Series, traveling the backroads and by-ways of America with this iconic Southern artist.

Benny Andrews and Stanley Staniski at the Grand Canyon
Photo by Ned Traver

Staniski had worked with the Ogden before, creating films about artists including William Christenberry, Will Henry Stevens and William Dunlap. During this time, he initiated his own series of photographs resulting from his journeys with Benny. Of the project, Staniski says:

On the highest level, we were trying to understand history and what migrants went through on their various treks. On the most basic level we were three guys in a car roaming around, following our noses, looking for whatever we could find, with Benny leading the way.

Benny Andrews and Rick Gruber
Photo by Stanley Staniski

Director J. Richard Gruber of the Ogden was involved at the inception of The Migrant Series, as well, and did some travelling with the team, himself. Writing about Benny and Stanley's journeys, Dr. Gruber recalls:
Traveling lightly and economically by car, in Andrews' Volvo station wagon, their extended journeys of exploration are reminiscent of earlier (and often mythic) American road trips, including those by 20th century artists and photographers such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Robert Rauschenberg and William Eggleston, and writers like Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck (whose book, The Grapes of Wrath, directly inspired Andrews' Route 66 trip).

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, in 2006 Benny expanded the initial parameters of The Migrant Series to include the diaspora of the residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He was never able to finish his vision, though. Benny Andrews died of cancer on November 10, 2006.

Staniski continued to be inspired by his journeys with Benny, expanding his photographic series in the spirit of those travels. When writing about his series, Staniski says:

Other photographic trips grew out of those with Benny, and while I made photographs along roads (Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia) other than the specific migrant routes of Benny’s interest, for me they are all of the same series, perhaps they are part of his legacy.

July 4th, Avalon Theatre, McLean, Texas. Photo by Stanley Sataniski

On October 3, 2009, the Ogden Museum opened the exhibition Stanley Staniski: On the Road with Benny Andrews. The exhibition includes thirty-two images, chosen by Chief Curator David Houston from a larger body of work resulting from and inspired by Staniski's travels with Benny Andrews.

Stanley Staniski. Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Lea Barton, Rick Gruber, William Christenberry, Stanley Staniski and Ken Barton.
Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Stanley Staniski, Richard Sexton and Richard McCabe. Photo by Cheryl Gerber.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Stanley Staniski and Massumeh Farhad, Associate Curator of Islamic Art at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries

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