published Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Divine vines: Celebrating the beauty of kudzu, wisteria

"Wisteria" by Joe Reynolds
"Wisteria" by Joe Reynolds


Reynolds earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from East Tennessee State University and a Master of Fine Arts in photography from Massachusetts College of Art. He has exhibited works in galleries in the South, New England and Japan.


• There are many, many nodes on a kudzu vine, showing up about every 10 to 16 inches.

• Each node can root.

• Large, rooted nodes are called crowns.

• All vines grow from rooted nodes or crowns; no vines grow from roots

• As many as 30 vines may grow from a single root crown.

• Vines can grow as much as one foot per day.

• Taproots from the crown have been known to grow to 7 inches or more in diameter, 6 feet or more in length, and weighing as much as 400 pounds.



What: Katakana:“Katakana: Photographs of Kudzu and Wisteria in My Back Yard.”

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, through Aug. 25

Where: Exum Gallery, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 305 W. Seventh St.

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, through Aug. 25

Admission: Free.


Say what you want about kudzu, the highly aggressive vine that’s been eating the South for more than a century, it is a distinctive plant that changes the landscape wherever it takes hold.

That’ engulfing attitude is part of what has intrigued photographer Joe Reynolds for years. So much so, he spent a year photographing kudzu and another climbing vine, wisteria, around his mother’s North Chattanooga home.

“I just like kudzu and wisteria,” he says. “They are non-native species and both have been here quite awhile. They stand apart from the rest of the landscape. Kudzu is kind of a conflicted vine that doesn’t blend in with other plants.”

Reynolds took about 5,700 shots during his project and whittled that down to 18 black-and-white photographs ranging in size from 8-by-10 inches to 30-by-40 inches. Titled “Katakana: Photographs of Kudzu and Wisteria in My Back Yard,” they are on display in the Exum Gallery at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church through Aug. 25. “Katakana” is a type of Japanese writing.

“We are thrilled to have Joe’s work here,” says Exum Gallery curator Curt Hodge. “Even though he is a local boy, his work is exhibited all over the place, and his photos are very dramatic.”

The silver gelatin prints were shot with a 1950s era 8-by-10 format-view camera. The process involved not only shooting the images but editing them down to a manageable number.

“I think what I was mainly looking for was to not repeat myself,” Reynolds says. “The idea was always that, once I got one idea down to not redo it. What I shot depended on the weather, my mood, whatever. I wanted to shoot whatever presented itself and to go out and find something beautiful and to be in the present and not think, ‘Tomorrow is the the day that I find the perfect picture.’”

Many of the images were taken in the winter, when the plant’s leaves die and it appears exposed and defenseless.

“That’s when it is dormant and weakened and most vulnerable,” Reynolds says. “You get the sense that it’s gone, and then summer time comes around and it’s back. It’s everywhere.

“It’s a permanent part of the land and yet it still sets itself apart from where it grows. It’s a plague and a pleasure to around. That’s the true definition of beauty.”

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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