A Review of 4 Photography Exhibits

What a weekend this was! White Linen Night, another New Orleans tradition, takes place the first weekend of August and this year was one of the best. Photography was featured at no less than 4 gallery/exhibition spaces, each show distinctly different.
Important fact: If you can’t handle the heat, stay home…. this is not a weekend for sissies, but it was worth it and I actually enjoyed the fact that in spite of the sheen and glisten of pure sweat, everyone was having a great time. So let’s see what made N.O. the photography capital for August.
First up-The George Long Gallery at 4516 Magazine St. featuring…George Long. This was George’s Katrina show titled “Blowing in the Wind” and to understand the significance of the title, you had to be there, for the exhibit broke loose from the traditional framed print on the wall presentation, to a clothesline that stretched from the front of the gallery to the corner, at least 100ft., with the laminated color photos hanging by clothspins. Everybody that walked by couldn’t help but see the photos, and as much as we have seen our share of Katrina images, good photographers show us not only what we may have missed, but their personal response to what lay before them. Coming up on 2 years since the disaster, you’d think we would have had our fill of these kinds of images. Honestly, I still find them fascinating, especially when a sharp eye like George’s shows us something that may have been overlooked. He clearly had early access to the city and his clever titles resonated with the images, no “Untitled” here. I applaud George for bringing it to the streets, and for what it took to embark on his documentary exploration of the tragedy.

Next-Lee Crum at the Lee Crum Gallery, 3926 Magazine St. One look at Lee’s work and you quickly see his highly evolved and stylized technical/commercial background, but more than that, you also see his love of the environmental portrait. I think there was only one photo that was done in a studio, the rest were on location. A blend of celebrities, the almost famous, and the real deal were here in his large scale intense color images, beautifully presented in his gallery. His image of “Porkchop” the famous street dancer is simply timeless, an animated dance pose full of life with an unmistakable New Orleans background. Lee’s range as a photographer is huge, he seems to effortlessly move from b&w to color,from fine art to commercial, it’s an awsome accomplishment. One observation about the dominance of the pigmented color/b&w image: as this type of print is fast becoming the norm for photography, I have yet to see a digital print that is the equal of a silver gelatin or cibachrome-type print. The depth of color and luminosity just isn’t there yet. Something gained-somthing lost seems to be the reality.

Who’s on third-Jim Thorns at The Darkroom, 1927 Sophie Wright Pl. “Medley of Melodies” features impeccably printed b&w images of mostly African-American jazz musicians. These have been made during recent N.O. Jazz and Heritage Festivals and show the love and devotion that both Jim and his subjects have for the jazz music form. Speaking of form, it is increasingly difficult for photographers to really distinguish themselves in this highly competive type of work, for at the highest levels, the subject matter, for the most part, is approached in the same way regardless of who made the image. But to Jim’s credit, this exhibit was edited to show the people whose work he admires and this narrow approach creates a cohesiveness that gives the show it’s strength and beauty.

Finally-Zack Smith at the Big Top, 1638 Clio St. “None a Stranger” is an apt title for Zack’s work, for once you see how he approaches his subjects, you understand that this is also a way of thinking about life. Check out the interview with Zack in the current issue of the periodical Anti-Gravity. The documentary style images simply radiate with humanity, and in a profound manner. The “transactional portrait” as A.D. Coleman has written, is about the exchange that happens when a viewer stands in front of a photograph. That connection on real human terms is what this work is about, whether it’s in color, b&w, or a frame of multiple images. The photos are presented in a number of ways; the traditional framed print on the wall, hanging on a found wall panel, or as a wall installation with leaves from a background shrub nestled behind the the photos. The range of joy and seriousness of the images was nothing short of amazing and for that Zack deserves a big gold star. Whether a stranger, a friend, or a fellow musician, this exceptional show was packed with people who came to a great venue to witness what we hope to see in a meaninful photograph: the connection to our shared existence on the planet Earth.