Sunday, August 2, 2015

Melinda Rose: Photographs of Isle de Jean Charles

"They are trying to wash us away..." was the most haunting refrain in Randy Newman's mid-1970s, Louisiana-centric album, Good Old Boys, a lyric made all the more haunting by the hurricanes and floods of recent decades. Nowhere has the saga of the wholesale collapse of Louisiana's coast been more dramatic than in the tiny Chitimacha Indian community of Isle de Jean Charles on the lacy coastal fringes of Terrebonne Parish. Once a cozy fishing village on ground high enough to raise crops or graze cattle, it has all but vanished as ever expanding networks of oil company canals became pathways for salt water to kill the trees and grasses that kept the land from washing away. In old WPA photographs, its inhabitants lived in ground level huts with palmetto-thatch roofs under shady, moss draped trees, but in these photographs made by Melinda Rose between 2005 and 2015, wooden camps on pilings appear amid the ruins of storm-ravaged former homes as skeletal as the dead trees that dot the landscape. For Rose, the tone is set by the young and the elderly in this starkest, most watery setting imaginable.

In Song 'n Dance Girl, top, a grinning, pixie-like ingénue stands on a pier leading to a cabin on a desolate expanse that bears little resemblance to the lush, tree shaded grasslands depicted in old photos, and only the timeless joys of childhood relieve the storm and salt-scoured landscape. The role of the elderly in perpetuating cultural memory is seen in Lil Tune for the Wife as a courtly gent strums a song on his guitar for his approving spouse. Jordan, the Road Home, is a head shot of a striking young woman framed by a long, thin road with expanses of water lapping at both sides, while From Island Road: Approaching Storm, is a minimalist view of a broad horizon darkened by looming turbulence roiling in the Gulf, a reminder of our sinking coast's fateful, and mostly man-made, vulnerabilities. ~Bookhardt / Of the Rising Tide: A Photo Essay on Isle de Jean Charles by Melinda Rose, Through September, Scott Edwards Gallery, 2109 Decatur St., 610-0581.