Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Deborah Luster Show Forthcoming in NYC

One of my favorite Southern photographers is Deborah Luster, a New Orleans-based photographer who in the age of big, bright, color, super-sharp images that often leave me feeling cold and distant has chosen to print small and dark and soft, and on coated metal, so you can hold her images in your hand.

At a show of her work some years ago at the NC Museum of Art, they were stacked in a box and viewers were invited to pick them up, shuffle through them, arrange them in some way that might make some sense.  In a high-tech world of photography, these are high touch images.

Her major body of work has been her portfolio One Big Self, a collection of portraits made in the high-security prisons of Louisiana, especially Angola and San Gabriel's, of inmates who because of violent and other crimes will be in prison for very long time. These are people who have lost or thrown away pretty much everything and they are living under some of the most difficult conditions of confinement and forced labor one can imagine..

Luster's images come out of the humanistic rather than the analytic tradition of photography. She looks openly and honestly and respectfully at people who have little left but themselves, the unaccommodated people, and they look back as they are, as best as they can muster to show us. There is dignity in these images, and that's a reminder that every human being has a dignity that deserves respect.

I can't find a website for Luster -- if anyone knows of one, please let me know. In the meantime, my friend Chris Sims has pointed me to a great story on Luster and this body of work here, on the Kitchen Sisters website from NPR, including interviews and more images and some poems inspired by this project by the poet C. D. Wright. 

Luster now has a new body of work, again from Louisiana, called Tooth for an Eye: A Choreography of Violence in Orleans Parish, which recently was shown at the Glassell Gallery at LSU in Baton Rouge. For more on this body of work, check out this story from last year's PhotoNOLA festival. In 2011, it will be shown in NYC in at Jack Shainman Gallery.

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