Sunday, December 18, 2016

Thorne at the International House; Uttermohlen at the Second Story Gallery

Every December for the past four years, the International House has staged has staged a photo exhibit, Magdalena, inspired by the Biblical figure, Mary Magdalene. Her role as the most controversial Biblical saint underscored her stature as an icon of female mysticism, while the mystery surrounding her life afforded artists no end of poetic license in their depictions. The approach taken by Canadian photographer Stephen Thorne this year — somewhere between National Geographic and an anthropological Vogue fashion shoot — seems restrained compared to earlier Magdalena shows.  Focusing on the varieties of female charisma, his images range from the lush Sub-Saharan beauty of Muna, Ethiopia, top, to the gravitas of an Afghan War Widow age 33, whose gauntly chiseled features evoke stoic dignity in the face of unspeakable tragedy. It was, in fact, Thorne's own PTSD from his photojournalism that led him to explore the resilience of feminine charisma in war-torn corners of the world, in views of irrepressible children, svelte young women and aging matriarchs that unexpectedly return us to Magdalena as an icon of the eternal mysteries of human existence.

Revered by the Gnostic Christians as a saint who could directly induce divine experience, Mary Magdalene's legacy suffered from the Inquisition's witch hunts, and from church protocols banning female priests. But in New Orleans, self-professed Christians like Marie Laveau became priestesses of the Afro-Caribbean Catholicism known as Vodou. Mary Lou Uttermohlen's photos of La Source Ancienne Onfou, a contemporary Nola vodou society led by Sallie Ann Glassman, are eloquent documentary views of its ritual invocations of the ancestors, including a pantheon of vodou spirits that are closely associated with, and symbolized by, traditional Christian saints. Here images like St. John's Eve among other photos of vodou ceremonies, altars and regalia remind us that Magdalena's repressed, but resilient, legacy of feminine mysticism remains multifaceted and timeless. Magdalena: Photographs by Stephen Thorne, Through Jan. 5, International House Hotel, 221 Camp St. 553-9550; Spiritual Yaya: Vodou: Photographs by Mary Lou Uttermohlen, Through Jan. 7, Second Story Co-Op Gallery, 2372 St Claude Ave, 710-4506.