Long before Louisiana struck “black gold” in the form of oil, there was a thriving “white gold” industry in the form of sugar. Both have sooty histories, but burning the cane fields at harvest time is a tradition that lingers because it is still the most efficient way to strip the stalks of their leaves on their way to the mill. Consequently, harvests can look almost apocalyptic, as we see in David Armentor’s photographs. The New Iberia native’s images encompass landscapes and industrial views of mill facilities like Sugar House (pictured), as well as portraits of cane workers, a varied assortment of Cajuns, Creoles and Hispanics. In his portraits, the workers appear in somewhat plutonic looking shrouds of cane smoke, as if the descendants of Longfellow’s Evangeline had entered the realm of Dante’s Inferno, reminding us again that we live in a strange state where exquisite natural beauty coexists with industrial incursions. Armentor’s images illustrate sugar’s infernal, yet almost romantic, legacy.
Natural beauty appears unsullied in John Folsom’s photographic mixed-media images of the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia. These too are shrouded, but with mists rather than smoke, and the ethereal qualities of the landscape are enhanced by his meticulous and painterly finishes as moss draped bayous seem to disappear into primordial vapors. The resulting images are minimal and meditative yet quietly vital as the reflective surfaces of the water intimate an otherworldly sense of mystery and wonder. Folsom’s artist statement says, “My new series, Creeper Lagoon, is an attempt to present the space of the swamp as a cultural construct. Devoid of indigenous life, the images presented here become a space of potential where the viewer’s references and experiences fill in the gaps to create a personal narrative. My fascination with these spaces has grown with continued photographic exploration of the American coastal South.”
Through August 10
The Sugar Mill Sessions: Photographs by David Armentor
Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., (504) 891-6789
Through July 27
Creeper Lagoon: Mixed media by John Folsom
Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., (504) 525-0518