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Review: Works by Willie Burch and Eudora Welty

D. Eric Bookhardt on new shows from some established masters


In the 70-year journey that has taken him from the New Orleans housing project where he grew up to having his work exhibited in some of the more hallowed halls of the New York art world and back to New Orleans again, Willie Birch has always been outspoken. Even so, his current Arthur Roger Gallery show can seem very quiet. Unlike his earlier 7th Ward street scenes, there are no second lines, stoop sitters or funerals in these big black-and-white works on paper, only stark, empty vistas where ragged buildings and rickety fences initially suggest a social realist view of his hardscrabble neighborhood. But like a back street Pompeii, these scarred, unpopulated vistas have their own tales to tell, and if they lack local charm in the usual sense, they are not without dignity. Rendered with eloquent simplicity, they reveal through their subtle luminosity a resonant depth of presence. "It is what it is," they seem to say, but like the area's residents, there is clearly more to them than what is seen on the surface.

  More street scenes appear in Eudora Welty's photographs at the Ogden Museum. Famous for her fiction, she was a young writer and photographer when she went to work for the WPA during the dark days of the Great Depression. She excelled in bringing a whimsical narrative sensibility to photographs of her native Mississippi's city streets and rural byways as we see in Home Before Dark (pictured). This storytelling quality is reinforced by excerpts from her writings on the walls, so rather than revealing vast impersonal forces, Welty takes us into her subjects' everyday lives. Like her stories, her photographs leave us feeling almost as if we know the cast of characters. The museum hosts a panel discussion and walk-through of the exhibit from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 13. — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT

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