Prior to all this, Shaw was known for her dreamlike landscape photographs and whimsical urban vistas, all rendered as muted black-and-white images taken with a Holga camera. A cheaply made Chinese device, the Holga is prized by some photographers for its oddly poetic, if unpredictable, lens qualities, attributes well suited to Shaw's visionary sensibilities expressed as images that come across like dream fragments or serendipitous epiphanies in unlikely places. But starting on Aug. 29, 2005, events came too fast and furious for a real-time photographic account, so they had to be recreated after the fact and in miniature " this time in living color.
The images are as dreamlike as ever and work nicely as a narrative sequence. Much is suggested or left to the imagination as the ever-ambiguous Holga lens strains to encompass the extreme close-up views of miniature people and things, so there is often a sense of objects materializing out of " or into " a fog. A seemingly fleeting image of the rear of a pickup truck venturing forth into the blurry unknown is perfectly matched by its almost storybook title, We Left in the Dark of Night. Followed by the duly noted details that comprise subsequent events, the narrative unwinds across states and places involving midwives in hazmat shields, the personal experience of birth followed immediately by televised broadcasts of death, mayhem and chaos in one's hometown, all followed by weeks of exile that stretched into months.
While all's well that ends well, Shaw's sardonic captions and whimsical images reflecting life on the road leave no doubt as to the psychological stresses involved in having one's life turned upside down while suddenly having to care for a brand new baby. But unlike the scathing cultural critiques of earlier toy and doll photographers such as Hans Bellmer or Laurie Simmons, Shaw's is a uniquely personal saga, an engaging variation on a near-mythic theme that we, the amphibious tribe of New Orleanians, have come to know all too well.
- Jennifer Shaw's large photograph We Left in the Dark of Night conveys a sense of embarking on a near-mythic, if whimsical, journey into the unknown.