It's almost too much of a good thing. Thanks to the New Orleans Photo Alliance, December is photography month in these parts, and consequently photographs are here, there and everywhere, or so it seems. It's all very diverse, with some galleries offering a mere smattering of images amid works in other media, while others feature group shows with a visual smorgasbord of styles and themes. Scattered amid the multitude are some unusually strong shows that stand out from the pack. For instance, it's hard to imagine a more distinctive body of work than Louviere and Vanessa's innovative As If expo at A Gallery for Fine Photography (reviewed in this space, 'Primal Screens," Dec. 4), a triumph of extreme technique rendered through a wildly over-the-top collaborative vision. Love it or hate it, there's nothing else like it, so this qualifies as an important body of work. As does Richard Sexton's Terra Incognita at the Ogden Museum, a series of classic black-and-white prints exploring the subtle and elusive beauty of Gulf Coast beaches and marshes. In a documentary portraiture vein, it would be hard to imagine any more haunting images than Ellen Susan's Soldier Portraits at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery, or Debra Luster's One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana at the Newcomb Gallery. Both employ archaic 19th century techniques to achieve uncanny depth and presence, and both will be explored in greater detail in subsequent reviews.
Ellis Marsalis III, at Stella Jones, takes more of a cinema verité approach to people in his unvarnished views of a largely underclass Baltimore neighborhood. Some of his often stark and unusually candid images resemble snapshots, but a closer look reveals jarring details " a normal looking kid standing by a fence is clutching a handgun " of the sort that only a profound familiarity with his subjects could provide. On view in the adjacent spaces are some eloquent vintage images of rural African-American families, sharecroppers and religious congregants by William Anderson Jr., as well as some interesting and innovative new work by Eric Paul Julien and Skip Bolen.
Meanwhile at Soren Christensen, Lisa Conrad's large photographs provide crisp yet somehow painterly vistas of misty Mississippi landscapes with horses grazing in the fog, as well as some abstract interpretations of the Eiffel Tower " a diversity of images made cohesive by Conrad's distinct compositional flair. Even larger works appear in The Big Show at the Darkroom, a mere six prints that manage to carry the cavernous space by virtue of their size and a compositional boldness that they all share despite their varied origins. For instance, Josephine Sacabo's mysterious female nude, Passion, is almost abstract at first glance, an undulating terrain of silky highlights and shadows, while David Halliday's Messina, a landscape featuring a tree growing amid the rubble of an ancient desert ruin, is no less mysterious despite its arid starkness of tone and content.
Related themes appear in Lori Waselchuk's Funeral Hearse at Angola State Penitentiary, a panorama featuring an old black man driving an antique black hearse pulled by two white horses as the eerie savannah surrounding the prison looms like a mirage in the background. Totally different in tone and content is Colin Miller's Crimes Against the Coalition, an apparent interrogation scene with a hooded subject being grilled by grim prison guards as old-time journalists take notes. A closer look reveals that all of the figures are in fact Miller, who montaged this dramatic scene as a kind of composite self-portrait. Creepily entertaining, it evokes the extremely unfunny Abu Ghraib scandal while illustrating the artist's impressive technical skills. Other photographic venues on Magazine Street include Poet's Gallery, Kunflama, Sorella and Juan's Flying Burrito, while an assortment of group shows abound along St. Claude Avenue, at Barrister's Gallery, L'Art Noir and Farrington Smith among others. Enjoy it while it lasts.
- Colin Miller's large photograph, Crimes Against the Coalition, stars Colin Miller as interrogator, detainee and reporter.