Southern Performance

By NJ Potter

I set out to photograph hip hop in the South, but when I saw the diverse options for concerts and performances, and the authenticity of each performance, I found myself drifting away from just hip hop.  I started to wonder why I was so drawn in to each performance.  I found that the act of performing was much like everyday life.  We all get up in the morning and make ourselves presentable—it’s part of societal expectations.  So why do we assume that making ourselves and our talents presentable for the stage should be any less authentic?

I thought my narrative summed up my artist statement, so I’ve included the transcript here:

“As I explored the performance schedules in Durham and at Duke, I found performances as diverse as the city’s residents.  In each performance I attended, I found myself getting sucked into the moment. I was at once a part of the audience and included in the artist’s story.

It’s easy to think of a performance as a carefully orchestrated act put on by the performer for the audience. But after I witnessed the passion and honesty in each performance, I found it hard to believe that it was all an act.

Instead, I came to believe that these types of performances are common to all of us.  They’re essentially the same as inviting someone into your home.

First, you get your house ready: you set everything up just so.  Sure, your house might not be in it’s everyday state, and actors and musicians don’t conduct performances like practices or jam sessions, but it’s natural to want to put your best foot forward.

Then you get yourself ready…However that happens for you.

And finally, the stage is set. You’re ready for your guests—your audience.

I’ve always thought that you get to know someone best when you visit their house.  Performances were, if anything, more telling.  It’s a moment concentrated on the passion of the person you’re visiting.  Additionally, many artists, both in their songs and during their performances, discussed their personal ideologies, their hopes and dreams, and the deaths of loved ones—All topics that are often considered too personal for the dinner table.  But just like any time we invite someone into our homes, one of the central themes was friendship.

After the performance was over, I expected to see the performers exhausted and ready to go home. But their reaction to the end of the show was much like the analogy of the dinner party: “Thanks for coming.”

Walking away from each performance, I realized that the experience felt so personal because performing is one of the ways people communicate with the world… And we all just want a chance to speak.”

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