Thursday, July 7, 2011

John Rosenthal at the Gregg Museum

Chapel Hill, NC photographer John Rosenthal  has a major show of work made in New Orleans, called THEN... ABSENCE: after Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward, at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, on the campus of NC State University, in Raleigh, NC, up now through August 13th, 2011.

John is a long-time resident of Chapel Hill, though he started his career as a photographer in New York City, creating a body of work published in 1998 by Safe Harbor Books with the title Regarding Manhattan.

He was also published in the 2005 volume QUARTET: Four North Carolina Photographers, also by Safe Harbor Books, along with Ron Amberg, Elizabeth Matheson, and Caroline Vaughan.

John is known primarily for contemplative Black & White photography. In this show, he switches to color work for a series of compelling images made in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward two years after Katrina. 

John got to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans and to the poor neighborhood of the Ninth Ward after the flood waters had receded, after bulldozers had removed the wreckage of more than 5,300 homes, leaving nothing but streets and foundations to indicate where a densely populated neighborhood had once stood.

John's emphasis in this work is on the lingering traces of what happened, traces of what has been lost. For little has been replaced or restored. Only a small percentage the the houses have been rebuilt, and there is still no fire department, grocery store, or medical clinic in the neighborhood.

John's work emphasizes destruction of community centers, especially destroyed churches, ruined flags, religious figures strewn in the grass, steps that lead nowhere,. In a way the iconic shot of the show is of a building with a sign painted on the wall that reads, "1600 people died so you could take this picture."

One might say that post-Katrina New Orleans has been overworked by photographers, but  when the work is as strong as John's, it's very much worth doing, and seeing, if you are in Raleigh.

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