Sunday, March 3, 2019

Rediscovered Birney Imes Photos and New Sacabo & Wonk Tomes at A Gallery for Fine Photography

We think we know people but they sometimes surprise us. Although we never met, I felt I knew Birney Imes from his striking color photographs of Mississippi juke joints, structures so ramshackle yet richly colorful they exude a pulsating life of their own. But his recently rediscovered black and white photos are surprising for their subtle take on rural Mississippi life. The other surprise was that Imes, whom I'd imagined as a camera-toting Delta blues hound was, until his recent retirement, the publisher of the Columbus Commercial Dispatch daily newspaper. His works on view amount to a slice of everyday life in rural blues culture; their lack of color is more than balanced by their depth of empathy. In “Young Girl, 1989, Isola, Mississippi,” above, random kids and adults appear hanging out in a yard, but look again and the girl with the pale eyes seems wise beyond her years, with a knowing gaze as impassive as an ancient oracle.

Other daily rituals imbued with a distinctive presence include guys rounding up a lost bird dog, youths selling watermelons by the side of a road, a snazzy couple kissing passionately at a café wedding reception -- a stark contrast to a formally attired youth, “Rufus at his Mother's Funeral,” looking stricken as he holds a solitary flower. In “Terrence Harris,” a young lad stands in front of a tiny shack almost obscured by a big old Detroit car stranded like a beached whale. He juggles a rock that hangs in space just above his hand. Locked in his gaze, it is unclear where it will land.      

These and other thoughtful works make A Gallery for Fine Photography a contemplative Lenten oasis. Up front, a reprise of Josephine Sacabo's recent “Tagged” photogravures expo -- French Quarter graffiti montaged with her images of iconic divas like sensual, secular saints -- assumes an altar-like presence amid her and partner Dalt Wonk's recently published Luna Press art books, lush works of provocative calm that are a perfect antidote to the manic storm of Mardi Gras. ~Bookhardt / Found These Pictures: Photographs by Birney Imes, Through April 20, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.