What really qualifies as news? A mass shooting at a school understandably generates widespread national outrage, yet the rampant killings in our inner city — or any American inner city — are too routine to garner headlines. The philosopher Hannah Arendt once referred to Nazi genocide as "the banality of evil" for the bureaucratic way it was enacted, but Deborah Luster's Tooth for an Eye photographs of local murder scenes (now on display at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art) exemplify what might be called the "ordinariness" of evil: The most startling thing about them is how utterly unremarkable they are. Only the photographs' circular compositions differentiate these scenes from others that go unnoticed on any given day.
Location 1900 Block of Foucher Street depicts a traditional frame home and a stretch of tree-shaded sidewalk that looks blandly normal until we read the caption: "Henry Butler IV, gunshot wound to the head." The tone turns grimly whimsical in a Rampart Street scene featuring a well-preserved Banksy graffiti painting at an otherwise bland intersection. The caption reads: "Chadwick White, gunshot to the head." The only truly sinister-looking images feature badly blighted structures or the desolate interiors of unkempt motel rooms. Rendered in black-and-white, these photographs are visual meditations on the places that bear the brunt of the violent code of the streets. How American pop culture's celebration of bloody, vengeful violence affects all this is a matter of debate, but it can't possibly help.
The only people depicted in this exhibition appear in illuminated color transparencies framed in vintage cast iron cemetery medallions from which they seem to glow like friendly ghosts. Devoid of the entertainment industry's soundtracks or special effects, all of these images reveal inner-city killing for what it is: a deafening silence, a gaping void in a family, a city, a nation — an affront to our shared responsibility for the kind of world we create, or tolerate. — D. Eric Bookhardt