Sunday, December 9, 2012

Deborah Luster at Arthur Roger; Shelby Lee Adams and Tav Falco at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

More than any other medium, photography is about time and its relationship to light and circumstance. In the hands of three Southern photographers, the results are often poetic. Deborah Luster's early works on view at Arthur Roger predate her more famous images of Louisiana prisoners and crime scenes, but the same insightful whimsy illuminates views that include rural children posed with captive eels, or else dressed in their Sunday best amid fields of billowy cotton. Here the street corner magic tricks of characters like Damien and Listine, top, coexist with a colorful array of personalities who appear as living and breathing stories rendered in flesh, memories flash frozen in time.

The inhabitants of Shelby Lee Adams' controversial Salt and Truth series of portraits from rural Appalachia are shocking for their candor. Here eccentric characters gaze intently at us from within crumbling clapboard shacks or decrepit barns with raccoon skins nailed to plank walls. Much of this suggests a Diane Arbus version of  WPA photography, but Adams, a native of the area, understands that while his subjects lack sophistication they also radiate the enduring tenacity one might expect from living examples of unadulterated Appalachian Americana.

Legendary musician, author and historian Tav Falco has long been a dedicated photographer of his native turf, and his images taken in and around Memphis in the 1970s glow with the quiet lucidity of a vision that distills people and places to their salient inner essence. But this is the South, so all those ghostly landscapes and ramshackle structures seem inhabited by the spirits of all who have come before. Or as Falco puts it: “Photography is a lone process of the lone eye blinking and twitching and gazing upon the terrifying, amusing and often diverting evidence of the living and the dead.” ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Send it On Down: Photographs by Deborah Luster, Through Dec. 22, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999;  Salt & Truth: Photographs by Shelby Lee Adams, 50 Photographs: An Iconography of Chance: Photographs by Tav Falco, Through Jan. 7th, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600,