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Review: Daguerreotypes to Digital and Apophenia

D. Eric Bookhardt on works at the Historic New Orleans Collection and Loyola



We are now in the depths of Lent. Mardi Gras is but a memory, so smaller and quieter is better, right? In this contemplative mode, a quietly compact photo show easily overlooked amid the recent hoopla stands out. The Historic New Orleans Collection's Daguerreotypes to Digital expo at its Williams Research Center is way more than its Photographic Processes subtitle suggests, mainly because of its often tiny yet sometimes stunning examples culled from its vast inventory of more than 100,000 photographs. For instance, a truly Shakespearean-looking 1874 King of Carnival sits in slumped repose, like a medieval warrior-monarch just back from battle, in a small albumen print by Pierre Petit. Similarly, a larger if no less striking 1875 salted paper print of a dapper Creole named St. Andre Matt, resplendent in his formal attire and stovepipe hat, conveys a quietly dramatic charisma. Even an understated, anonymous 1910 cyanotype of two Decatur Street stores, Bartel's Pet Shop and Weingart's Fireworks, is like a tiny magic window into the past replete with nonchalant shopkeepers and children in the doorways. But surely the most mysterious of all is I Am Longing for Tomorrow When I Think of Yesterday (pictured), a small, circa 1911 tinted glass lantern slide of a fancy dressed gent on a beach. Attributed to the Crescent City Film Exchange and titled after a pop song, this surreal reprise of the popular imagination of the period is just one of the obscure gems featured here.

Matt Shlian's large Apophenia exhibit at Loyola University's Diboll Gallery also provides a quiet — if quite contemporary — mix of science and visual poetry. Seemingly melding architecture, modern art and pure geometry, Shlian's cut paper sculptures illustrate how pattern recognition techniques link contemporary technology with the idealized pure forms envisioned by Plato in classical times, when art and science were all part of the same cosmic worldview.

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