Sunday, July 14, 2013

Armentor at Cole Pratt/Folsom at Callan

Long before Louisiana struck "black gold" in the form of oil, there was a thriving "white gold" industry in the form of sugar. Both have sooty histories, but burning the cane fields at harvest time is a tradition that lingers because it is still the most efficient way to strip the stalks of their leaves on their way to the mill. Consequently, harvests can occasionally look almost apocalyptic, as we see in David Armentor's photographs. The New Iberia native's images contrast idyllic if minimal landscapes like Field at Dawn, below, with industrial views of mill facilities like Sugar House, above, as well as portraits of the cane workers themselves, a varied assortment of indigenous Cajuns and Creoles as well as more recent Hispanics. In his portraits, the workers appear in somewhat plutonic looking shrouds of cane smoke, as if the descendants of Longfellow's Evangeline had entered the realm of Dante's Inferno, reminding us that we live in a strange state where exquisite natural beauty coexists with industrial incursions. Amentor's images illustrate sugar's infernal, yet almost romantic, legacy.

Natural beauty appears unsullied in John Folsom's photographic mixed media images of the Okefenokee Swamp in South Georgia. These too are shrouded, but with mists rather than smoke, and the ethereal qualities of the landscape are enhanced by his meticulous and painterly finishes as moss draped bayous seem to disappear into the primordial vapors. The resulting images are minimal and meditative yet quietly vital as the reflective surfaces of the water intimate an otherworldly sense of  mystery and wonder. Folsom says, "My new series, Creeper Lagoon, is an attempt to present the space of the swamp as a cultural construct. Devoid of indigenous life, the images presented here become a space of potential where the viewer's references and experiences fill in the gaps to create a personal narrative. My fascination with these spaces has grown with continued photographic exploration of the American coastal South." ~D. Eric Bookhardt

The Sugar Mill Sessions: Photographs by David Armentor through August 10, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789; Creeper Lagoon: Mixed Media by John Folsom through July 27, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518